Roystonea regia

Cuban royal palm


Roystonea regia

(Kunth) O.F.Cook 1900

pronounced: roy-STOH-nee-uh REE-jah

(Arecaceae — the palm family)


common names: Cuban royal palm, royal palm

Most species of Roystonea are generally known as Royal Palms. The genus contains about 10 species of monoecious palms native to tropical regions of Florida, the Caribbean, and the adjacent coasts of Central and South America. It is named for Roy Stone (1836–1905), a US army engineer and brigadier-general in the civil war. The Roystonea palms are cultivated world-wide, and are especially favoured as avenue trees. Long rows of their grey-white columnar trunks are unmatched for their magnificence and stateliness. They have generally been considered to be among the most beautiful palms in the world, although this reputation has been dented a little since the recent popularity of the Foxtail Palm.

Roystonea regia (regius is Latin for ‘royal’) is a solitary palm from Cuba (of course!), and grows to 15 m or more tall, sometimes as tall as 30 m, with a smoothly sculpted grey trunk irregularly enlarged below, more slender above, and banded with leaf-scars. Leaves are pinnate, 4 – 6 m long, with numerous (about 100) slightly plumose leaflets, and a green crownshaft at least 1.5 m long extending down the trunk.

The palms of this species have the ability to release their fronds easily in strong winds, enabling them to resist being blown over in hurricanes. After such an event they quickly renew their foliage. The inflorescences occur beneath the crownshaft, emerging from a narrow, horn-shaped bract. The flowers on the branched panicles are whitish, unisexual, and contain both sexes on the same panicle. The fruit is a surprisingly small oblong drupe a little over 1 cm in length that ripens to a dark purple. Propagation is from seed.

Roystonea regia is, unusually for a palm, a fast grower. It is tolerant of salt drift, and will grow near the sea so long as it is set back a little from the sand. Like all the Royal Palms, it is not very particular about soil. It does, however, have high light requirements, and likes bright sunny conditions. Although it looks its best when the water supply is good, it does originate from the dry hills around Havana, and is fairly drought-tolerant.


Photographs taken at Picnic Bay 2010, 2012
Page last updated 26th March 2019