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What are Aiphanes?

R. Britton
R. Britton

Aiphanes is a genus, or classification of living organisms, of spiny palm plants that are native to the Caribbean, South America and Central America. There are 25 species of Aiphanes, which range in size from shrubs to trees that grow more than 66 feet (20 m) tall. The name "Aiphanes" was first used by Carl Ludwig Willdenow in 1801.

The Aiphanes minima is also known as the macaw plant and can grow up to 30 feet (8 m). This tree originally grew in the West Indies and can survive in minimum temperatures of 28 degrees Fahrenheit (minus-2 degrees Celsius). The leaves of the tree are flat with jagged ends to the leaflets.

Spines grow on both the upper and lower surfaces of the leaves. Cream or light yellow flowers grow on the tree and are fragrant. Round, red fruits that have edible seeds also grow on the plant.

Man mowing the grass
Man mowing the grass

The Aiphanes aculeate is commonly known as the ruffle palm, and it grows up to 25 feet (9 m) in height with a trunk diameter of 10 feet (3 m). The tree has pinnate leaves, which also can be described as feather-like, with triangular leaflets that are singular segments of a compound leaf. The trunk is silvery in color and has grooves, which are tan in color, running around the trunk. The fruits of the Aiphanes aculeate are bright red, measuring 0.75 inches (2 cm) and are edible. Most of this tree is covered in black spines that measure 3 inches (7 cm) in length.

Another species is Aiphanes horrida, which has many common names, including cucos rura, mararay and the spine palm. It is a solitary spiny palm that grows mainly in the South American rainforest and can reach heights of up to 30 feet (10 m). The plant is covered in black spines, and the tree grows a crown of green leaflets. The tree grows quickly and likes moist and well-drained soil as well as a lot of light.

Some members of this genus are on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's red list for threatened species. The plants and trees that are on the list include Aiphanes duquei, which is now endemic to an area in Colombia because of the destruction of its habitat to make way for agricultural expansion. Aiphanes varicose also was endangered as of 2010. It is endemic to Ecuador, where only three areas of the tree remain, although it is possible that the tree is present in areas of the country that are extremely difficult to reach.

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