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   Phoenix canariensis (tree, palm)     
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      Phoenix canariensis (Photo: W. Mark and J. Reimer) - Click for full size   Phoenix canariensis flower (Photo: W. Mark and J. Reimer) - Click for full size   Phoenix canariensis canopy and fruit (Photo: W. Mark and J. Reimer) - Click for full size
    Taxonomic name: Phoenix canariensis hort. ex Chabaud
    Synonyms:
    Common names: Canary date palm, Canary Island date palm, dattier des Canaries (French), phoenix palm
    Organism type: tree, palm
    Phoenix canariensis is a palm tree native and endemic to the Canary Islands. It is very hardy and can establish in a variety of soil conditions. It its younger stages Phoenix canariensis fronds can be harmful to humans and animals, due to sharp barbs that can cut off and embed themselves under the skin, eventually causing infection. Some individuals are also known to be allergic to the plant. Phoenix canariensis has also been documented as displacing native species and altering habitat.
    Description
    Gilman and Watson (1994) describe P. canariensis as a large, stately palm that often reaches a size too massive for most residential landscapes but is very slow-growing and will take a considerable amount of time to reach its 15 to 18 metre height. P. canariensis can be identified by its single, upright, thick trunk topped with a crown of 2.5 to 4.5 metres long. It puts out stiff leaves with extremely sharp spines at their bases. The stalks of inconspicuous flowers are replaced with clusters of one-inch-diameter, orange-yellow, date-like, ornamental fruits, which ripen in early summer. The trunk can reach a diameter of 1.2 metres and is covered with an attractive, diamond-shaped pattern from old leaf scars.

    The Dendrology Lab at Virginia Tech (Undated) describes P. canariensis in greater detail: The leaves are alternate, pinnately compound, and can reach lengths of up to 1.8 metres. Individual leaflets are lance-shaped and 30 to 45cm long with the lower half of the petiole covered with 5-8cm sharp spines that are shiny and dark green above and have a feathery appearance. The flowers are dioecious and both males and females occur on dense, hanging many-branched 30cm clusters. The flowers are creamy yellow-white and open from a husk-like structure that appears periodically throughout the year. P. canariensis's fruit is a fleshy elliptical drupe that can be 1-3cm long and orange-brown to dark purple. It is date-like and occurs in up to 45cm hanging clusters. The fruit ripens in summer and is edible."

    Occurs in:
    coastland, ruderal/disturbed, urban areas, water courses
    Habitat description
    Morici (1998) reports that in its native habitat on the Canary Islands, P. canariensis grows on a wide variety of soils, all of volcanic origin and usually fertile. P canariensis has an extensive root system, which allows these palms to explore the surrounding earth to find subterranean water even at long distances. P canariensis even grow in subxeric areas because they are resistant to temporary swamping of the soil caused by sudden rains. Rivas-Martinez et al. (1993) explain that, "Other trees and shrubs, with typical root systems, which could act as competitor species do not get established in those sites, as they cannot resist asphyxia caused by the waterlogged soil. This is why the P canariensis is one of the most grown palm trees throughout the world. It tolerates cold and warmth, drought and floods, shade and sun, and salt spray as well as mountain climate." In urban environments where P canariensis is often introduced as an ornamental, this species can thrives in a variety of habitats and soil types (Gilman and Watson, 1994).
    General impacts
    P. canariensis need to be properly pruned on a regular occasion to avoid human contact until they reach particular heights. Injuries from the fronds in which fragmented barbs lodge under the skin often require multiple surgical procedures in order to remove all foreign material. Since their introduction, P. canariensis have also become a source of bronchial asthma in a certain individuals, as palm fronds senesce and dry out (Adams et al. 2000; and Blanco et al. 1995). Brusati and DiTamaso (2003) also explain that P. canariensis has been documented displacing native trees and in one instance causing a river to change direction and subsequently flooding a historical site.
    Uses
    Gilman and Watson (1994) state that, "P. canariensis can be used in large parking lot islands; wide tree lawns; medium-sized parking lot islands; medium-sized tree lawns; and is recommended for buffer strips around parking lots or for median strip plantings in the highway; specimen; sidewalk cutout (tree pit); residential street tree. P. canariensis has been successfully grown in urban areas where air pollution, poor drainage, compacted soil, and/or drought are common." Floridata (1999) has found that, "This is not a good palm tree for residences unless the planting area is very large. The huge bulk of the Canary Island palm dwarfs most houses. This palm is best used along boulevards, on campuses and in parks and grouped in trios to form focal points in cityscapes".
    Notes
    Floridata (1999) reports that, "In areas of high rainfall P. canariensis are often seen with ferns growing from among the old leaf stems. Decomposing leaf litter and other fibrous matter collect there creating an absorbent compost that sword ferns love, forming a hanging garden just below the palm's canopy".
    Adams et al. (2000) caution against the planting of P. canariensis in positions where young children have ready access such as schools, playgrounds and gardens.
    Geographical range
    Native range: Africa (Morici, 1998).
    Known introduced range: Australasia-Pacific Region, Europe, and North America (Esler and Astridge, 1987; Brandes, 2001; and USDA-NRCS, 2005).
    Introduction pathways to new locations
    For ornamental purposes: Gilman and Watson (1994) state that, "P. canariensis has been successfully grown in urban areas where air pollution, poor drainage, compacted soil, and/or drought are common."


    Local dispersal methods
    Consumption/excretion: Birds also digest and spread the seed (Brusati and DiTamaso, 2003).
    Water currents: Seed can be dispersed via water through storm drains and then into creeks and rivers (Brusati and DiTamaso, 2003).
    Management information
    Biological: Giant palm weevil (Rhynchophorus palmarum) can kill recently transplanted palms or those which are injured. Once in the palm, remedial control is not possible. Palm leaf skeletonizer (Homaledra sabalella) devours leaves. A variety of scale insects infest this palm. P. canariensis is mildly susceptible to lethal yellowing disease and leaf spot. Stressed and damaged trees often are infected with the Ganoderma fungus (Ganoderma applanatum). A conk is formed at the base of the tree, which appears as a varnished shelf or mushroom. A wet trunk and wet soil encourage this disease (Gilman and Watson, 1994).
    Reproduction
    P. canariensis seed can be dispersed via water through storm drains and then into creeks and rivers, but birds also digest and spread the seed (Brusati and DiTamaso, 2003).
    Reviewed by: Dr. Neil Mitchell. School of Geography and Environmental Science. Tamaki Campus, University of Auckland. New Zealand.
    Principal sources: Gilman and Watson, 1994. Phoenix canariensis Canary Island Date Palm
    Brusati and DiTamaso, 2003. Part IV. Plant Assessment Form: Phoenix canariensis Chabaud
    Compiled by: National Biological Information Infrastructure (NBII) & IUCN/SSC Invasive Species Specialist Group (ISSG) with support from the Terrestrial and Freshwater Biodiversity Information System (TFBIS) Programme (Copyright statement)
    Last Modified: Tuesday, 4 April 2006


ISSG Landcare Research NBII IUCN University of Auckland