- History and Culture
Dictyosperma album, Palmiste blanc, also known as Hurricane palm is the only species of the genus Dictyosperma. The genus is native to the Mascarenes, it includes three currently recognized species which are: D. album var. endemic album of Mauritius and Reunion; var. aureum of Rodrigues; and var. conjugatum of Round Island. Resembling the palm trees of the genus Archontophoenix, its trunk with a diameter of 15 centimeters can reach 12 meters high. The apical bud is approximately one meter long and is covered with white wax, hence the name of album. Its rounded crown of dark green leaves reaches 4 to 5 meters wide and up to 3 meters high, the leaves measure between 1 to 2 meters. The plant is monoecious, it produces male and female flowers on the same plant, which are white or yellow and bloom on inflorescences that encircle the trunk at the base of the crown shaft. The ovoid-shaped fruit are purple or black and contain a single seed.
D. album is endemic to Mauritius and Reunion but during colonization, development and agriculture activity in Mauritius, this palm has been heavily harvested. The last known specimens in the wild are found in humid upland forests. The seeds are dispersed by birds and bats which contributes to the natural propagation of the species.
Even though it is commonly planted in gardens and used in landscaping this species is classified ‘Critically Endangered’ on the IUCN Red Data List due to the few individuals known in the wild. There are fewer than 10 individuals D album var album in the wild and the last known station is in the Reserve of Florins a few kilometers from Bel Ombre. It is protected in nature under a rescue program set up by the Mauritian government (micro-management). Seeds are collected for nursery propagation and seedlings then reintroduced into natural habitat as part of forest rehabilitation programs.
The white kernel palm is one of the plants mentioned by the first occupants of the island who used it as a source of fresh food after the long ocean crossings. It has since remained one of the stars of Mauritian cuisine. D album var album is the most commonly grown species for its edible cabbage.
The thin sticks of the leaves are used in the making of brooms and the leaves are used to decorate the party rooms at weddings or festive activities.