The Palmetum has about 3000 species of plants from tropical and subtropical climates from around the world. The botanical family of palms, scientific name Arecaceae or Palmae, makes up the majority of our collection, with over 600 species distributed throughout the park by geographical origin. Most of the surface area of the Palmetum is dedicated to island territories, which means that island palms are well represented, such as those from Madagascar, the Caribbean and Polynesia.

The collection, begun in 1996, is one of the most remarkable in the world today, and the Santa Cruz Palmetum features amongst the top botanical gardens that specialise in palms. The different bio-geographical sections of the park feature palm trees that are very different from those commonly used in landscape gardening. Some stand out because of their idiosyncratic growth habits, such as the slow-growing “belly” palms or the climbing species, which are used on an industrial scale for the production of rattan. Species that have practical uses are also grown, such as the sugar palm, oil palm, and the medicinal Serenoa repens. The most widely represented palm genera are: Coccothrinax, Chamaedorea, Dypsis, Syagrus, Copernicia, Livistona,and Pritchardia.

Hoja de Coccothrinax macroglossa, de Cuba
Leaf of Coccothrinax macroglossa from Cuba

Species that are not palms have been planted for their conservation or educational value, or because they provide a floral background for the palms, realistically replicating their natural habitats. A rich collection of rare species has been assembled:Ficus, Pandanus, Plumeria, Bromeliaceae and Agavaceae. The largest tree is a majestic Ficusreligiosa, which is now over 15m tall. Various species of baobabs have germinated several times since 1996 (AdansoniazaandA. digitata), and have bloomed every summer since 2012. Spectacular mature mangroves (Rhizophora mangle) are growing on the main lake, already propped up by their characteristic stilt roots and producing torpedo-shaped floating seeds. There are also dozens of unusual fruit trees such as the breadfruit tree (Artocarpusspp.) and a splendid copse of Araucariacolumnaris from New Caledonia, about 50 planted along the slope from the top of the hill down to the sea, brought from their habitat in late 2000. We also have a fine collection of wild species of Plumeria, filling the various corners of the Caribbean section with fragrant white flowers, and which we hope to add to in the coming years.

With regard to the geographical collections, the flora in the Caribbean section deserves a special mention, as it is the largest and most varied in the Palmetum and contains the most valuable species. The New Caledonia section is another highlight, containing as it does examples of endemism found in this remote archipelago. In the Canary Islands section, an interesting selection of local endemic species from the thermophilic forest areas near the city is being created.

From the beginning, we have worked with the seriousness required of a botanical garden and the specimens that we cultivate are recorded in a computerised map with their corresponding reference number. An accompanying database contains records of their origin, which in most cases are very comprehensive, with exact geographical references provided by their collectors. Some of the plants are vitally important and rarely cultivated. We have around a hundred species listed in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Many species were collected in their habitat thanks to exchanges with the official institutions of several countries and expeditions organised by the Palmetum in its early years. Some of the specimens are here as a result of the helpful intervention of influential palm experts.