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Wax palm can be sustainably harvested

The wax palm can be harvested sustainably with just a few management restrictions, according to a new study in’s open access journal Tropical Conservation Science (TCS). Found only in the Peruvian and Ecuadorian Andes, the leaves of the wax palm (Ceroxylon echinulatum) are used to make Easter handicrafts. But the practice has caused fears that the species, which is currently categorized as Vulnerable by the IUCN Red List, is being overexploited.

“The possible impact of leaf harvest on the survival of wax palm populations has raised questions about whether to ban such harvests or to manage the resource,” the researchers write. Scientists fear that cutting leaves from the wax palm may make the plants less able to survive. Such concerns have led the Ecuadorian government to ban the practice completely.

However, by mimicking harvesting practices over two years, the TCS study found that wax palm leaf cutting did not inhibit future leaf growth or the appearance of new leaves. In fact, some plants actually sped up growth in response to cutting.

“The study showed that the ecologically sustainable harvesting potential of [the wax palm] is high,” the researchers write. “However, if the individual is subject to annual cropping, it is unknown whether this potential for recovery can be sustained over the years.”

The scientists say their finding should push the government of Ecuador to overturn the ban on harvesting wax palm leaves, especially as the ban has had unforeseen impacts.

“This public policy has affected the income of poor villagers during Easter Celebration and favored the replacement of wax palm natural stands with pastures,” they write.

But to keep harvesting sustainable, the researchers say harvesters should not cut adjacent leaves and should limit how many leaves are cut from each palm.

“An appropriate management strategy would be to divide the population of young individuals with nine or more leaf numbers in the crown into different quadrants of rotational, biennial and monitored cropping,” they write.

CITATION: Duarte, N. and Montúfar, R. 2012. Effect of leaf harvest on wax palm (Ceroxylon echinulatum Galeano) growth, and implications for sustainable management in Ecuador. Tropical Conservation Science Vol. 5(3):340-351.

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