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Chamaedorea cataractarum - Palmpedia

Chamaedorea cataractarum

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photo by Forest & Kkim Starr, edric.
(kahm-eh-doh-REH-ah) cataractarum
Photo by Rohan Musgrave, edric.
Scientific Classification
Genus: Chamaedorea
Species: cataractarum
Chamaedorea atrovirens
Native Continent
Habit: Solitary
Leaf type: Pinnate
Survivability index
Common names
Guayita de los arroyos - Mexico. Cat palm, Cascade Palm, Cataract Palm, Mexican Hat Palm.

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Habitat and Distribution

Hawaii, Mexico Southeast, Mexico Southwest. MEXICO. Chiapas. Oaxaca. Tabasco. Moist or wet forest along or in streams and cataracts on the Atlantic slope; alt. 300-1,000 m elevation; usually on limestone.

This plant is a rheophyte, which means that it grows in stream beds, and is often covered by floodwaters. Its long thin leaflets, and trunkless habit are an adaptation to present as little resistance as possible to flowing water, and thus prevent being washed away each time it floods.


A small, attractive, trunkless, clumping palm, to about 2m (6ft) high, and 2.5m (8ft) across, with glossy, dark green leaves, and long thin leaflets. It will eventually form quite a large dense, clump given time. (It is occasionally used as a hedge plant.)

Habit: caespitose, creeping, appearing stemless, forming dense clumps to 2 x 3 m. Stems: 2-4 cm in diam., dichotomously branched, horizontal, green, nodes prominent, congested, internodes less than cm long. Leaves: 4-5 per crown, erect-arching, pinnate, to 2 m long; sheath very open, tubular only at base, green; petiole to 30 cm long or more, channeled and green above, pale and rounded below, very flexible; rachis to I m long or more, obtusely angled and green above, rounded and pale below; pinnae 13-20 on each side of rachis, to 30 x 2.5 cm, linear-Ianceolate, straight, briefly decurrent basally, regularly spaced, alternate, drying plicate, acute, departing rachis at an angle like a venetian blind, arching but tips ± drooping, a prominent midrib and I prominent primary nerve on each side of this. Inflorescences: interfoliar or sometimes infrafoliar in fruit, erect, appearing to arise from soil or leaf litter; peduncles 50-70 cm long, ± rounded or slightly flattened, 7 mm wide, green in flower, orange in fruit; bracts 6-7, prophyll not seen, 2nd bract 10 cm long, 3rd 15 cm, 4th 18 cm, 5th 28 cm, 6th 20 cm, tubular basally, ± inflated apically, papery-fibrous, green in flower but persistent and becoming brown and tattered in fruit, longitudinally striate-nerved, uppermost exceeding peduncle and often concealing a small rudimentary one to 5 cm long. Staminate with rachis 3-8 cm long, green; rachillae 6-15, these 7-12 cm long, drooping. Pistillate with rachis 7 cm long, rounded or angled, green in flower, red-orange in fruit; rashillae 10 or rarely spicate, to 15 cm long, 3-4 mm in diam., erect, ± stiff, greenish in flower, orange in fruit. Flowers: Staminate in 4 dense spirals, contiguous in bud, 2 x 2.5-3 mm, depressed-globose, angled by mutual pressure, yellowish tinged with green apically; calyx low, ringlike, scarcely lobed, pale, sepals connate nearly to apex, rounded; petals 2 x 2.5 mm, broadly ovate, slightly cupped, connate basally, valvate apically, rounded to straight apically; stamens just shorter than petals, filaments prominent, anthers 0.5 mm long; pistillodejust shorter than or equalling stamens, columnar, briefly 3-cleft. Pistillate close but not contiguous in bud, 2.5 x 3 mm, hemispherical or very depressed-globose, yellowish, slightly sunken in elliptic depressions 2-2.5 mm long; calyx 0.3-0.5 x 3 mm, ringlike, scarcely lobed, barely visible, sepals broadly rounded apically; petals 2-3 x 4 mm, broadly triangular, imbricate nearly to apex, cupped, straight to broadly rounded apically; pistil 2 x 3 mm, depressed-globose, light yellow, styles very short or lacking, stigma lobes short but exserted well beyond petals, pointed, recurved. Fruits: 10 x 6-8 mm, ovoid-oblong, green changing to dark brown then black with glaucous bloom at maturity. (Hodel, D.R. 1992)/Palmweb. Editing by edric.

Liebmann probably introduced C. cataractarum to Europe in the 1840s. He collected it during his travels in Mexico along streams and cataracts near Jocotepec in Oaxaca. Later, Martius (1849) formally described and named the species. A few years later Wendland (1853b) described and named C. martiana from material that Linden had introduced to European gardens from Chiapas, Mexico. Wendland (1854) reported C. martiana growing in several gardens in Europe while Guillaumin (1923b) stated that it had been growing at the Musee de Paris since 1850 from Linden's introduction. I treated C. martiana as a synonym of C. cataractarum in an earlier paper (Hodel 1990d). In horticulture, C. cataractarum has been confused with C. atrovirens. In 19th-century Europe, this latter name was erroneously applied to material of C. cataractarum and, in many instances, this is still the case today in Florida, California, Hawaii, and Australia. Krempin (1990, p. 89) discussed and illustrated C. atrovirens but the description and photograph depict C. cataractarum. On the other hand, some material grown as C. cataractarum is actually C. oreophila. Chamaedorea cataractarum is unusual in its habitat and habit. One ofthe few rheophytes in the palm family, it inhabits the banks of rivers and streams of the Atlantic slope of Mexico in the states of Oaxaca, Tabasco, and Chiapas, occurring in or near water and being wholly or partially submerged during heavy rains and floods. It was originally found near waterfalls and cataracts, hence the specific epithet. In Chiapas, I observed large clumps several meters across growing along the banks of streams or small rivers. These clumps, like giant bull rushes, tended to capture and trap debris during times of high water. The debris line on the clumps of the palms was an indication of how high the water had risen. Chamaedorea cataractarum is also unusual in its branching pattern. With age, plants tend to creep along the ground anq over rocks with their horizontal stems branching in a dichotomous manner. Fisher (1974) provided a thorough and well illustrated account of this stem form. This dichotomous branching habit results in thick clumps with a sturdy network ofthick, horizontal stems which grow along the ground, anchoring the clump securely. Along with flexible leaves and leaflets that tend to bend and sway with an opposing force, the creeping and securely anchored stem enables C. cataractarum to grow and survive in and along streams where it is occasionally inundated by swiftly moving water.?Chamaedorea cataractarum is cultivated in Hawaii, California, Florida, Venezuela, and Australia. In the United States, it is grown commercially from locally produced seeds or seeds imported from Mexico. It has gained popularity dramatically in recent years and has appeared in the indoor potted plant trade. In California, it appears to be susceptible to mites and brown tipping of leaflets due to low humidity and water with high mineral content. It grows well in Hawaii and Florida where it makes an attractive, informal border or hedge for a partially sunny location. (Hodel, D.R. 1992)/Palmweb.


This species, which has not acquired a widely accepted common name, was introduced to the interior plant industry during the late 1970's and has since lost most of its appeal as an indoor plant since. This low growing plant develops to a height of 24 inches and produces basal shoots with age. Its foliage is dark green and distinctly glossy. Its slow growth and extreme susceptibility to spider mites, especially indoors, has eliminated it from the list of good palms to use indoors. Chamaedorea cataractarum is still grown on a limited scale for a landscape palm in south Florida.The cat palm is a great palm for indoor growing and is such because it can take the tough conditions of the not so great indoors. The one problem encountered with them as houseplants here in Florida is the presence of pathogenic fungi taking hold of the soil and slowly killing the palm. I've found that putting them outdoors for a few days every month mitigates this problem. In Denver, you are probably not going to have the same stuff growing in your container soil. To get to a point though, you needn't give this palm any special consideration. Just water it when the soil starts to get a little dry. These palms live along streams in their native range and don't mind periodic inundation. feed lightly as well.This is a very popular palm, both for indoor use and outside. It loves water and its virtually impossible to give it too much. It likes a lightly shaded, moist position, altho it will take full sun if the water is kept up to it. Frost tolerant

Comments and Curiosities

Chamaedorea are dioecious, male, and female flowers, on separate plants.

Etymology: From the Latin cataracta, meaning pertaining to cataracts, and wet rocks along water courses, in reference to the habitat.

External Links


Phonetic spelling of Latin names by edric.

Special thanks to Geoff Stein, (Palmbob) for his hundreds of photos, edric.

Special thanks to Palmweb.org, Dr. John Dransfield, Dr. Bill Baker & team, for their volumes of information and photos, edric.

Glossary of Palm Terms; Based on the glossary in Dransfield, J., N.W. Uhl, C.B. Asmussen-Lange, W.J. Baker, M.M. Harley & C.E. Lewis. 2008. Genera Palmarum - Evolution and Classification of the Palms. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. All images copyright of the artists and photographers (see images for credits).

Hodel, D.R.1992. Chamaedorea Palms, The Species and Their Cultivation. The International Palm Society.

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