Study of Hyphaene in the Montgomery Botanical Center (Miami, USA) – March 2018

From March 23 to March 29 of 2018 Fred Stauffer is visiting the world-class palm botanical garden Montgomery Botanical Center (MBC) in Miami, Florida. In the frame of this visit many interesting Hyphaene species are being sampled for molecular phylogenetic analyses that will be undertaken in Geneva. All these palms have been collected from wild populations in several countries (i.e. Burkina Faso, Botswana, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe and Namibia) that won’t be visited in the frame of our project. Early September of the last year Montgomery Botanical Center was badly hit by the Hurricane Irma, an extremely powerful and catastrophic  hurricane, known to be the strongest observed in the Atlantic in terms of maximum sustained winds since Wilma, and the strongest storm on record to exist in the open Atlantic region. Many interesting palms at MBC could not support the strong winds that hit Southern Florida, some of them reaching almost 290 km/h.Here some breathtaking views of some areas of this magnificent garden.

One of the main objectives of our visit to MBC is to sample silica-dried material for our molecular phylogenetic studies. So far we have been able to collect 15 different individuals corresponding to three different species. Countries represented include Botswana, Zimbabwe, South Africa and Kenia. MBC hosts one of the richest Hyphaene palm collections. The palm that I am here collecting is Hyphaene coriacea collected in Madagascar.

Did you believe that peacocks were exclusive of the Botanical Garden of Geneva?, not at all. At Montgomery Botanical Center a whole bunch of them is permanently hanging around and looking for the fresh  shadow offered by the palm leaves. At mid-day temperatures at MBC almost reached 28 °C.


Crocodiles are not rare in the properties of the Montgomery Botanical Center and the Fairchild Tropical Garden. In many regions of coastal Southern Florida these reptiles find their home in the swampy areas or marshes that border many properties. While collecting one Hyphaene we crossed this alligator heading to the water.

While collecting one Hyphaene we crossed this alligator heading to the water. Not to exaggerate but you really need to know who is behind you when collecting at MBC.

Borassus akeassii is one of the rare palms cultivated at the Montgomery Botanical Garden. This species seems less robust that its closely relative Borassus aethiopum. The original seeds from this palm were brought to MBC by the Borassus specialist Ross Bayton and gathered by him in Burkina Fasso.

This is our last day of sampling and we have now accumulated more than 30 samples of silica-dried material of Hyphaene and Borassus. The well curated collection of MBC hosts many interesting species of Hyphaene that will be represented in our molecular phylogenetic analysis.

This large male inflorescence of Hyphaene thebaica, originally cultivated from seed sampled in Burkina Faso, is now in full anthesis. We saw some large bees gathering pollen from some these flowers. They are apparently scentless.

We were able to study fresh male flowers of the doum palm (Hyphaene thebaica) originally collected in Burkina Faso. These flowers were photographed in detail and the leaves of the palm sampled for DNA studies.

The coconut lake is one of the two artificial lakes in this property originally owned by Colonel Robert H. Montgomery (1872-1953), founder of the Fairchild Tropical Gardens in 1936. Many years later and especially due to the important commitment of his wife Eleanor "Nell", this collection undoubtedly became one of the more important palm collections in the world in terms of taxonomic richness and ornamental value.

Several individuals of Hyphaene coriacea collected originally in South Africa by Larry Noblick. Most of those palms are now producing male inflorescences

Montgomery Botanical Center hosts important representatives of Borasseae. In this picture we can see Bismarkia nobilis to the left and individuals of Hyphaene coriacea to the right

Sampling of one individual of Hyphaene coriacea. In 2017 we dissected one of these individuals in order to study the branching pattern characteristic of this genus.

On Tuesday 27th we visited the Kampong Garden (National Tropical Botanic Garden), original home of the legendary botanical explorer Dr. David Fairchild. This garden hosts many interesting plants (including 50 varieties of mango!) brought by Fairchild during his explorations to several countries in tropical America and Asia. Lynda La Rocca made us a very nice and informative visit of this property, right on the Biscayne Bay.

This is one of the breath-taking views that you can enjoy at FTG, an amazing place with rich collections and beautiful landscapes.

FTG often display nice exhibitions of showy orchids framed in palm landscapes. Visitors are always amazed about this combination of amazing plants

Another beautiful view combining orchids and palms. A gift for the visitor’s eye.

A group of boys and girls display a small exhibition on the diversity and different uses of the palm family. This is part of a wide program undertaken by FTG to bring visitors basic information on the palm family. The knowledge of these teenagers on issues as diverse as oil palm plantations and palm morphological diversity is just impressive. Big congratulations to all of them!