Copernicia Mart. ex Endl.

This genus is accepted, and its native range is Caribbean, S. Tropical America.

Twenty-one species, three in South America, two in Hispaniola, the remainder in Cuba and several described naturally occurring hybrids.
Moderate to massive usually solitary hermaphroditic fan palms, native to Cuba, where there is a great radiation of species, and to Hispaniola and South America; the highly branched inflorescence usually has rachillae with completely tubular bracts and the endosperm is ruminate.
Carnauba (Copernicia prunifera), petticoat palm (C. macroglossa), caranda palms.
Leaf (Tomlinson 1961), roots (Seubert 1997), flower (Morrow 1965).
In the Caribbean, the species occur in savannahs or woodlands in the lowlands in relatively dry situations. The South American species occur in pure natural stands. Copernicia prunifera is found in vast natural stands in Brazil and grows in areas prone to seasonal flooding.
General Description
Moderate to tall, solitary (rarely clustered), slow-growing, armed, pleonanthic, hermaphroditic palms. Stems covered with persistent leaf sheaths for part or all their length, sometimes becoming bare with age, the naked portion roughened and often with close, rough, ± evident leaf scars, basally expanded or not (Copernicia berteroana). Leaves induplicate, palmate to shortly costapalmate; sheath fibrous, petiole lacking or very short to elongate, channelled or flattened adaxially, rounded abaxially, the margins armed with stout teeth; adaxial hastula short to very long, coriaceous, triangular, unarmed or spinose margined or erose, sometimes persisting after the lamina has disintegrated, abaxial hastula absent; blade wedge-shaped or orbicular, divided 1/4 to 1/3 to the base into single-fold pointed segments, outermost bifid at the apex, segments often spiny margined, thick, very stiff, major ribs with caducous tomentum, midribs prominent abaxially, transverse veinlets not evident. Inflorescences interfoliar, often exceeding the leaves, frequently densely tomentose, branched to 6 orders; peduncle elongate, narrow, elliptic in cross-section; prophyll tubular; peduncular bracts 0–1, apparently 2-winged, irregularly split apically; rachis about as long as or longer than the peduncle; rachis bracts tubular, closely sheathing, first-order branches each bearing a prophyll, subsequent bracts tubular, tightly sheathing, split apically, gradually reduced and lacking on rachillae or present and conspicuous through to the flowers, usually densely tomentose; rachillae of medium length to very short, stout or slender, often recurved, bearing spirally inserted, membranous bracts, each subtending a solitary flower or groups of 2–4 flowers, distant or very crowded, the group and each flower subtended by a membranous bracteole. Flowers with 3 sepals united in a thick-based, 3-lobed cup, lobes usually acute; corolla tubular below with 3 thick-tipped, valvate lobes, prominently pocketed and furrowed within; stamens 6, united by their broad filament bases into a cupule, borne at the mouth of the corolla tube, distinct filament lobes abruptly narrowed to short slender tips, these not inflexed in bud, antesepalous lobes sometimes larger than antepetalous ones, anthers usually small, ovate or oblong, dorsifixed near their bases, latrorse; carpels 3, follicular, distinct basally, styles wide basally, tapering, connate, stigma dot-like, ovule erect, basal, anatropous. Pollen ellipsoidal, with slight to obvious asymmetry; aperture a distal sulcus; ectexine tectate, finely perforate, perforate and micro-channelled, or perforate-rugulate, aperture margin slightly finer; infratectum columellate; longest axis 24–38 µm; post-meiotic tetrads usually tetrahedral, occasionally tetragonal or, rarely, rhomboidal [5/21]. Fruit ovoid or spherical, usually developing from 1 carpel, carpellary remains basal, stigmatic remains apical; epicarp smooth, drying minutely roughened, mesocarp slightly fleshy with longitudinally anastomosing fibres, endocarp moderately thick, crustaceous. Seed ovoid or globose, basally attached, with large ovate basal hilum, raphe indistinct, narrow, branching, endosperm deeply ruminate; embryo subbasal. Germination remote-tubular; eophyll entire, lanceolate. Cytology: 2n = 36.


Palmae, John Dransfield. Flora of Tropical East Africa. 1994

Morphology General Habit
Single-stemmed, unbranched, pleonanthic, monoecious, palmate-leaved palms, often with tall trunks, covered at first with persistent leaf-bases, these in age rotting to produce a clean trunk marked with leaf-scars
Morphology Leaves
Petioles almost absent to moderate in length, usually flattened above, rounded below in cross-section, armed with marginal spines, often covered in indumentum and wax; adaxial hastula usually present, often enormously elaborated, with spiny margins; leaf-blade often waxy, partially divided into induplicate segments, sometimes further divided for a short distance to produce cleft tips; outer margin of blade sometimes spiny
Morphology Reproductive morphology Inflorescences
Inflorescence axillary, branched to 3–4 orders; prophyll tubular, 2-keeled; subsequent bracts tubular, closely sheathing, occasionally empty, the distal subtending branches; branches with or without 2-keeled prophyll; rachillae often hairy, bearing flower-clusters in the axils of minute bracts; flower-clusters with 1–5 flowers, each borne in the axil of a minute bracteole
Morphology Reproductive morphology Flowers
Flowers hermaphrodite, inconspicuous, sometimes fragrant; calyx campanulate or tubular, 3-lobed; corolla campanulate or tubular, longer than the calyx, with 3 acute lobes; stamens 6, epipetalous, joined by their filaments to form a staminal tube, with free filaments apically; anthers basifixed
Morphology Reproductive morphology Flowers Gynoecium Pistil
Gynoecium of 3 carpels almost free below, united apically into a common style; carpels uniovulate
Morphology Reproductive morphology Fruits
Fruit ovoid or spherical, normally developing from 1 carpel only; endocarp leathery to woody
Morphology Reproductive morphology Seeds
Seed basally attached; endosperm deeply ruminate; embryo basal.

Copernicia prunifera is of great economic importance as the source of high quality carnauba wax (Johnson 1985). Other parts of all species are also used locally as leaves for thatching, stems for building, and fibres for brushes and rope. Starch from stems and fruits is edible; seedlings are used for fodder.

Native to:

Argentina Northeast, Bolivia, Brazil North, Brazil Northeast, Brazil Southeast, Brazil West-Central, Colombia, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Paraguay, Venezuela

Introduced into:

Netherlands Antilles, Trinidad-Tobago

Copernicia Mart. ex Endl. appears in other Kew resources:

Date Reference Identified As Barcode Type Status Has image?
Jan 10, 1984 Wright, C. [3216], Cuba K000209144 No
Jan 10, 1984 Wright, C. [3216], Cuba K000209143 No
Britton, H.L. [s.n.], Cuba K000209142 No
Britton, H.L. [s.n.], Cuba K000209141 No
Meyer, T. [9857], Argentina K000209149 No

First published in Gen. Pl.: 253 (1837)

Accepted by

  • Govaerts, R. & Dransfield, J. (2005). World Checklist of Palms: 1-223. The Board of Trustees of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
  • Govaerts, R. (1999). World Checklist of Seed Plants 3(1, 2a & 2b): 1-1532. MIM, Deurne.


Palmweb - Palms of the World Online

  • J. Dransfield & N. Uhl & C. Asmussen & W.J. Baker & M. Harley & C. Lewis, Genera Palmarum. The evolution and classification of palms. 2008

Flora of Tropical East Africa

  • Dahlgren & Glassman in Gentes Herbarum 9:1–232(1963)
  • Hist. Nat. Palm. 3: 242 (1838)

  • Flora of Tropical East Africa

    Flora of Tropical East Africa

  • Herbarium Catalogue Specimens

  • Kew Backbone Distributions

    The International Plant Names Index and World Checklist of Selected Plant Families 2022. Published on the Internet at and
    © Copyright 2017 World Checklist of Selected Plant Families.

  • Kew Names and Taxonomic Backbone

    The International Plant Names Index and World Checklist of Selected Plant Families 2022. Published on the Internet at and
    © Copyright 2017 International Plant Names Index and World Checklist of Selected Plant Families.

  • Palmweb - Palms of the World Online

    Palmweb 2011. Palmweb: Palms of the World Online. Published on the internet Accessed on 21/04/2013
    Content licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License