If trees could speak our language, the gum palm, or Dioon spinulosum, would likely have thousands of stories to tell.
Belonging to a group of plants known as cycads, gum palms have been around for more than 270 million years, dating back to the the same time frame as the Jurassic period. Gum palm was a favourite meal of the stegosaurus and triceratops, and therefore the Jurassic period has also been referred to as the Age of Cycads.
In those early times, gum palms existed in abundance; today they are listed as an endangered species.
Though gum palm is noticeable for its architectural structure, it is easy to miss the flowers — this is because they do not exist. The gum palm is known as a gymnosperm, or non-flowering plant. Rather than a flower, it produces a cone, which is an unusual, and remarkable feature of this plant. The cone is what holds the seed, which is then dispersed for reproduction. The Dioon spinulosum’s female cone is the largest of all gymnosperms, living or extinct.
Native to southeastern Mexico in the tropical rainforests of Oaxaca and Veracruz, gum palm can grow on rocky slopes with well-draining soil. Another noteworthy characteristic is that it tolerates and actually even prefers limestone soil and can tolerate humidity better than other cycads. Both of those factors make it an excellent choice for landscapes in the Cayman Islands.
Growing to heights of 50 feet in its native habitat, the gum palm has striking green leaves which radiate in perfect symmetry from its trunk. Each leaf has 120 to 240 leaflets, which are small and flat and have tiny thorns along their edges that then taper to a sharp point.
A trendy and sustainable plant for the landscape, gum palms will grow in full sun, but will grow faster in a bit of shade. In Camana Bay, the gum palm can be seen along the Paseo.