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Hydriastele sp. H.Wendl. & Drude 1875
pronounced: high-dree-uh-STEEL-ee species
(Arecaceae – the palm family)
common name: Hydriastele palm
The derivation of Hydriastele is rather confusing. It is a transliteration of two Greek words, 'υδρια (hydria) and στηλη (stélé). The former is a water-pot, the word also being transferred to other containers, including a cinerary urn; the latter is a block of stone, or a gravestone, or a boundary post. What the connection is with this genus of palm is anybody’s guess. I have seen several ingenious explanations of the name based on false assumptions, the first being that a hydriad was a Greek water-nymph (not true – that was a Naiad), and that stele meant a pillar (not true – that was a style, from στυλος).
This is a diverse and widespread genus of palms, found throughout Australia and New Zealand, Melanesia, Polynesia and south-east Asia. There are some uniting traits:
• pleomanthy. There are two type of flowering in palms: pleomanthy, the most common, in which the stem goes on producing leaves and inflorescences until the palm dies of old age, and hapaxanthy, in which the stem dies soon after producing the inflorescence. In single-stemmed palms, this results in the death of the whole plant; in multi-stemmed palms, the palm may live on by the production of new stems.
• monoecy: all members of the genus are monoecious.
• they all have crownshafts.
• none of them are armed.
• the inflorescences are branched to 3 orders with both male and female flowers, some of which are beetle-pollinated.
• the fruit may be ellipsoidal or spherical and coloured yellow, orange, red, purple or black when ripe, each with a single seed.
These are small to very robust, solitary or clustered pinnately-leaved palms, with conspicuous crownshafts and often conspicuous praemorse leaflets. The stems are erect, slender to robust, bare, conspicuously ringed with leaf scars.
The inflorescences are infrafoliar, usually horsetail-like, protandrous or protogynous; the peduncle short, winged at the base, sometimes becoming swollen. The staminate flowers are fleshy, asymmetrical; the calyx sessile or with a sort stalk-like base, 3 short triangular sepals, 3 fleshy petals, distinct except at the very base; up to 24 stamens with very short filaments. In the pistillate flowers, the ovary is unilocular and with one ovule laterally attached near the apex of the ovary.
The fruit is globose to narrowly ellipsoidal, bright red to purplish black, sometimes drying ridged.
In New Guinea the trunks are sometimes used for floorboards and the side panels of houses.
Photographs taken in Nelly Bay 2014
Page last updated 28th November 2016