The Corozo Palm [Attalea cohune] and its Habitat

The Corozo Palm Attalea cohune is a prolific, and at times dominant, species in humid lowland biomes of Central America. The eastern Guatemalan departments of Izabal and Petén, along with neighboring Belize, are home to palm population of considerable range and density. In this region Corozo palms are common in settings ranging from undisturbed forests to cattle ranges.

Corozo palms growing in natural forest, Sierra de Santa Cruz, Izabal, Guatemala. Image by Jingwen Sun

Corozo reach considerable age and size under their native conditions, living for up to 150 years. In their natural setting Corozo palms grow surrounded by a well known species such as Cecropia, Ficus, Chicle, and Sapote, as well as the high level of plant diversity typical of lowland tropical forests. Corozo are a closely related congener to the well known amazonian species, Babassu palm, with nearly identical description and biochemistry. The primary differences between Corozo and Babassu are their geographic location and that Babassu are reportedly more adapted to fluvial habitats.

Corozo palms growing in pasture. Trees possess fountain-like leaf arrangement due to regular harvest of leaves. Aldea Sabala, Izabal, Guatemala. Image by Jingwen Sun

Corozo palms play a significant role in various mixed-use landscapes, including landscapes that have been moderately to severely altered through human use. Many rural communities in Izabal intentionally cultivate Corozo in cattle pastures or on the periphery of villages for the purpose of harvesting the enormous leaves for roofing material.

Abandoned cattle pasture in early stages of successional change. The hillside is being colonized by a large number of young, less than two year old, Corozo palms, representing an early wave of environmental succession. Livingston, Izabal, Guatemala. Image by Jingwen Sun

Corozo palms play an important role in landscape succession, and could potentially be a key element in remediating deforested lands. The cyclic economic booms and busts that occurred in Eastern Guatemala over the 20th century have left many land parcels once used for cattle or agriculture defunct and unused. Passing through these landscapes one can easily observe different parcels of land in various stages of transition from empty land, back to forests dominated by native species. Corozo palms are one of the first large plant species to take hold in disturbed grassy areas. As the palms mature they are joined by a wide variety of native shrubs and broadleaf trees.

Mixed-use, disturbed landscape in early-mid succession with many 10–15 year old Corozo palms. Image by Jingwen Sun