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SOUTH AMERICA'S VALLEY OF RARE PALM TREES

Colombia

A story by Jungles in Paris Photos by Maciek Jasik

In Colombia’s Cocora Valley, clusters of slender palm trees stretch through the mist to touch the clouds. The elongated trunks, striped with intermittent leaf scars, rise to nearly 200 feet. The tree is the Quindio wax palm, or Ceroxylon quinduiense. It is, you might say, a very rooted tree, for the Cocora Valley is the only place on earth where it grows.

The tree was on the verge of extinction when, in 1985, the Colombian government—with the backing of the Catholic Church— stepped in and created a wildlife sanctuary in Cocora Valley. The rampant felling of the Quindio wax palm ended, and it was declared Colombia's national tree.

The trees are situated at an intersection of tropical jungle and sparse alpine biomes, within the “cloud forests” of the Andes, where they grow out of the Cocora Valley’s acidic, sandy soil.

Cocora Valley is named after a princess of the pre-Colombian Quimbaya civilization whose name meant “Star of Water.” The name makes sense: the valley gets 70 inches of rain a year on average, as well as additional moisture from an often-present mantle of mist and fog.

These days, the biggest threat to these cherished trees comes from rival palms. Imported African palms fuel Colombia’s extensive palm-oil industry, and plantations devoted to them are among the biggest drivers of deforestation in the country.

For the moment, though, their lean predecessors still have an oasis where they can stand tall.

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