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What is Copernicia?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 01 November 2016
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Copernicia is a genus of fan palms found across South America and the Caribbean. Like other fan palms, they produce visually distinctive foliage, with individual leaves resembling large fans and clustered at the top of the tree. This palm genus is quite diverse and some species within the genus are threatened or endangered as a result of habitat destruction, exploitation, and other issues. Gardeners and landscapers interested in using fan palms can find Copernicia species through nurseries and companies specializing in palm cultivation.

These palms are adapted to savanna environments, and are found in the wild near rivers, streams, and other sources of water. Some are designed to live in periodically flooded grasslands, while others can be harmed by heavy flooding. Copernicia palms grow slowly, allowing them to conserve energy in the natural environment, and they can live for a very long time. This should be considered when selecting plants for landscaping, as these plants will take several years to look mature and once they are planted, they are there to stay.

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Several species in the Copernicia genus produce carnauba wax, a commercially valuable product, on their leaves. Nations like Brazil cultivate wax-producing palms to collect the wax. This product is used as a food additive and in a variety of other ways. Other uses for species in this genus include thatching and traditional crafts with the leaves, and construction with the timber of fully mature adult trees. Adult palms have close-grained, even wood ideal for many types of building projects.

Members of the Copernicia genus are resistant to insects and other pests, in addition to fungal infections. They can be grown outdoors in tropical regions and may be cultivated in greenhouses or solariums in cooler climates where outdoor temperatures are not consistently tropical. Because older leaves tend to cling to the tree, periodic trimming may be needed to keep the palm looking tidy and to reduce the risk of fire, as old leaves will dry out and can pose a fire hazard.

Nurseries sometimes carry seedlings and young plants or can order them by request. It is also possible to transplant more mature adults, but this can be costly. Excavating and transporting mature palms is a specialty task and the associated expenses can mount up quickly. The advantage to using larger trees is that people will not have to wait so long for them to mature, allowing landscaping to look more mature and established almost immediately.

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