As we dip into August, we're inclined to imagine one last trip—chasing summer's sunny embrace to a lush clime in the Caribbean, the south of France, the Hawaiian archipelago, or... eastern Antarctica? Not this year, perhaps, but 55 million years ago, coastal Antarctica was a pretty balmy place. Summers peaked at about 25°C (77 F), winters were a mild 10°C (50 F), and the shores were filled with palm trees and ancestors of the modern macadamia and baobab.
When first harvested, seeds of the Phytelephas aequatorialis tree are white, though you might be more familiar with them as brightly-colored baubles in your jewelry box. Tagua (pronounced tog-wah) nuts, or "ivory of the rainforest," from the Ecuadorean Ivory Palm, are a sustainable alternative to elephant ivory. The seeds are hard and smooth, as well as being easy to carved and dye. They are lustrous as Bakelite and smooth as ceramic, with a chromatic depth I associate with silk or the complex grain of walnut wood.
In honor of Father's Day, here's a hirsute tree that goes by the name Old Man Palm (Coccothrinax crinita). Covered in long fibers (crinita means hairy in Latin) that resemble a tremendous beard, the rare species is a favorite among palm collectors. The tree is also known as the "Old Man from Cuba," where it is native and endemic. I know what you're thinking—a beard under the Cuban sun? Why, it's a palm for Ernest Hemingway.
In 2008, a rare and unusual palm was discovered in remote Madagascar. Hailed as the most important new species of its kind, the tree made headline news—not for its notable survival, but for its spectacular demise. If the Tahina spectabilis had an epitaph, it would read "The gigantic palm that flowered itself to death." And, quite literally, it did. After 50 years of unnoticed steady growth, the palm bursts into flower. The hundreds of tiny blossoms drip with nectar, and a pollinating frenzy ensues.