What is Corypha?

Mary McMahon

Corypha is a genus of fan palms found distributed across parts of Southeast Asia, the Pacific Islands, and Australia. It is estimated that there are less than 10 species in this genus, some of which are only found in cultivation. One species, C. taliera, is extinct in the wild and known only in the form of a few specimens in botanic gardens. Two popular species in cultivation are the talipot palm and the Gebang palm, both of which are available at nurseries and garden supply stores in regions where these trees can be grown.

Man mowing the grass
Man mowing the grass

These palms produce very thick trunks and massive fan-shaped leaves. A fully mature Corypha can top 65 feet (20 meters) in height. These trees flower only once during their lifetimes, typically when they are between 30 and 80 years old. After the flowers have set into fruit, the tree dies. The term for plants that flower once before dying is “monocarpic” and there are a number of genera and individual species known for this trait.

Most Corypha species grow very slowly, an important consideration for gardeners who may be concerned about the maturity of their landscaping. These palms are designed to live for decades and conserve energy as they grow. When they are ready to flower, the bright yellow inflorescence will dominate the crown of the tree. Butterflies, bees, and other insects are often attracted to the flowers and birds may also be drawn to the tree in the hopes of capturing an insect meal.

These trees grow well in tropical regions. They require full sun and rich, well-drained soil to thrive. Periodic fertilization is recommended to keep the trees healthy. They can be established alone as specimen plantings or grown in a stand of trees for a more distinctive visual effect. Because Corypha palms grow slowly, some gardeners opt to transplant more mature specimens, although bigger trees are expensive and transporting a mature palm can be a costly endeavor.

In their native range, Corypha species are used for a wide variety of purposes. Their leaves are employed in thatching and papermaking, and they can also be used in the production of fibers for products like rope. Plantations of these trees are established in some regions to provide a steady source of usable products. Archaeological evidence suggests that people have been using these trees in the production of crafts like paper for an extremely long time.

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