If you're into botanicals, it's not much of a stretch to think about how the materials that we use can influence the aquatic environment that they're immersed in. And, with greater emphasis on the origins of our botanical materials, you'll start noticing that quite a few of our most popular botanicals come from a single source- the Palm.
Nothing really screams "tropical!" quite like a palm, right?
Yep. We think so!
With over 2600 species of palm identified, it's a diverse and wide-ranging group of perennial plants. Hailing from the botanical family Arecaceae, palms may be climbers, shrubs, creepers, stemless plants..and the most widely known form- trees. And yes, as botanical-style aquarium fans, we're most interested in the "tree" forms of palm.
Most palms hail from tropical climates, with only like 120-odd species coming from non-tropical environments! So, yeah, they're pretty much the "Official Plant of the Tropics" by almost anyone's definition! And crazy adaptable; the main requirements for their growth being essentially warm temperature, decent amounts of water, and unfiltered sunlight.
There are a few families that we are particularly interested in: The Nypoideae, which contains just one species- Nypa- which offers a lot of interesting materials in our selection; among them are the Nypa Palm Pod, the Nypa Palm Flower, and the Mangrove Palm Pod (a specialized variant of Nypa fruticans, which can grow in partially submerged brackish conditions- Hello!).
The other subfamily, Arecoideae, includes some of our other fave "tribes", Areceae, Caryoteae, and some well-known genera we find in our botanical selection, such as Phoenix, Cocos, and Borassus, to name a few.
The genus Cocos, where the species Cocos nucifera (the "Coco" or "Coconut Palm") hails from, contains a bunch of our favorite botanicals, such as Coco Palm Bracts and Mini Coco Palm Bracts (the modified leaves of the palm tree), Coco Curls, "Fundo Tropical", and the humorously-named "Coco Pedaco" (essentially chunks from the exocarp, the outermost layer of the fruit).
This genus has so many commercial uses that it's not even funny...They're very commonly commercially cultivated for their utility. Almost every part of the tree is usable, ranging from food to building material to...aquarium use! You've probably heard of coconut carbon, which is derived from the coconut shell, which excels at removing organic impurities from water.
And then there is the genus Borassus; specifically, Borassus flabellifer, which is known as the "Tala" or "Palmyra" Palm, is an extremely versatile and useful tree as well. We derive the very cool Tala Palm Husks from this species, and they are a really interesting and long-lasting botanical material, which provides not only an interesting look, but a good substrate for biofilms to grow upon- and a "direct food" for species like Plecos and shrimp.
From the species Caryota mitus, the "Fishtail Palm", comes one of our all-time favorite botanicals, the "Fishtail Palm Stem." It's a very cool-looking botanical, which looks great scattered among leaves and other materials on the substrate of the aquarium.
In general, palm materials are long-lasting, aesthetically interesting, and provide great environmental and biological support for our aquatic ecosystems. Interesting fact: Palms have living cells that may be sustained throughout an individual palm's lifetime, and thus, it's argued by some scientists that palms may have some of the longest living cells of any organism!
And of course, the fruit of the palms contain tannin, as well as flavonoids, catechins, carotenoids, and organic acids, making them potentially very "biologically available" for the health of our fishes. Palms produce chemical compounds via "primary" and "secondary" metabolism. The secondary metabolites are compounds that play an important role in plant survival, providing a defense mechanism against predation by insects, herbivores, and microorganisms.
Does this "translate" into value as a fish "prophylactic" of sorts when used in our aquaria? Hmmm...
Now, it's that same kind of theoretical "stretch" that we make about Catappa leaves, for example. However, it's always thought-provoking to contemplate that these are scientifically verified properties that might, might-have some of the same "health benefits" for fishes as often ascribed to Catappa! Interesting at least.
The antimicrobial activity of the chemical compound found in the fronds of many palm species also raises a few eyebrows in our world. Again, it might be a stretch to think that a palm frond in your tank could prevent diseases; however, it's interesting to contemplate the possible benefits that could be derived from their use when submerged.
At the very least, the much-loved Pygmy Date Palm Frond (from Phoenix roebellenii), is a really beautiful "functional aesthetic" accent to the botanical-style aquarium. We've used these attractive, interesting fronds in our own aquariums for years, and they've become one of our most popular botanical-items for a lot of reasons! You'll typically receive them as gently dried specimens, still retaining much of their living green color. They last a decent length of time when submerged, and provide a very unique look!
Yes, there is "power" from the palms- be it the power to provide a unique type of aesthetic, a useful "substrate" upon which other life forms can grow, find shelter, and reproduce, or to provide supplemental food sources...and there is that "possibility" that they might offer some of the same potential health benefits as are often attributed to other botanical materials.
In the end, the ultimate "power" of palms might just be their ability to inspire, excite, and motivate us to push the boundaries in aquarium keeping; to search for potential new breakthroughs, discoveries, and challenges. Time will tell what new things we learn from them!
In the mean time, we'll keep studying them. Admiring them. Treasuring them.
Stay curious. Stay excited. Stay thoughtful. Stay skeptical. Stay educated. Stay inspired...
And Stay Wet.