By Jack Scheper

Butia capitata

Common Names: Jelly Palm, Pindo Palm
Family: Arecacea/Palmae (palm Family)

This beautiful feather palm has long pinnate leaves that arch and recurve towards the ground from atop a thick stout trunk. The trunk can grow to 20 feet, but normally reaches 12-15 ft (3.7-4.6 m) with a diameter of 1-1.5 ft (0.3-0.5 m). Typically, the old leaf stalks persist for years, although specimens with clean trunks are not uncommon. Leaves range from light green to bluish gray and grow 5 to 10 feet long. The leaf stems range from about 2-4 ft (0.6-1.2 m) in length and have spines along both edges. The palm produces bright orange fruit (often called pindo dates in the Deep South). These palms vary in form from one individual to the next. Specimens raised in dry and/or infertile soils tend to be smaller in stature with smaller leaves. Light also affects the plant's form while those grown in full sun are more compact.

This mature pindo palm looks especially attractive with its symmetrical form and a trunk that is clear of old leaf stalks.
This mature pindo palm looks especially attractive with its symmetrical form and a trunk that is clear of old leaf stalks.
The apparent variability in specimens of B. capitata is also due to the fact that there are several other species in this genus that are very similar in appearance. Palm enthusiasts in this country grow B. yatay which resembles B. capitata but grows taller and has a thicker trunk. Other species include B. eriospatha and B. paraguayensis (which some experts assert is a subspecies of B. yatay). All of these hybridize readily and it is suspected that many of the plants offered as B. capitata may be hybrids. Butia can also be crossed with Syagrus romanzoffiana (the queen palm) to produce the very handsome mule palm.

Jack planted these pindos from 1 gal containers 12 years ago
Jack planted these pindos from 1 gal containers 12 years ago. They have grown to an overall height of 15 ft (4.6 m) in that time with only minimal supplementary watering and an annual dose of fertilizer.

All members of the Butia species are native to the grasslands, dry woodlands and savannahs of South America. Populations range across a wide area of northern Argentina, southern Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay. The pindo is a popular landscape item in North Florida and throughout the mild Gulf and Atlantic coastal regions of the southeastern United States. It is also popular in northern California and similar warm winter climates that are subject to occasional frosts.
Pindo Palm Inflorescence
Pindo Palm Inflorescense

This pindo palm flower stalk (called an inflorescence) has recently emerged from the tan woody case called a bract (the light pointed object to the left).


Light: Full sun to moderate shade (the fronds grow longer in shady situations, giving the palm a more graceful aspect than those grown in full sun).
Moisture: Prefers sandy, well drained soil but is adaptable and very drought tolerant. Regular watering and feeding will produce a faster growing, more attractive palm.
Hardiness: USDA Zone 8-9. This is our hardiest feather leafed palm. Specimens can be seen in North Carolina and I've had reports of a Butia spotting in Washington D.C. On the west coast the Pindo palm is grown as a novelty in warmer Zone 8 microclimates as far north as British Columbia. This palm is not recommended for subtropical and tropical climates.
Propagation: Seeds. Young palms are often found under palms that have been allowed to produce fruit. It is not unusual to see offspring growing in the old leaf boots of a mature tree.

Use it as a lawn accent or in groupings. This palm is good for urban plantings and can also be grown at the beach behind dunes or other protection. Will adapt to container culture.

Pindo Palm Fruit
Pindo Palm Fruit

This is particularly nice bunch of pindo palm dates. The cluster is being supported in an upright position by an adjacent leaf stem showing the fruit off to full advantage. Typically the heavy clusters droop and hang downward against the truck.

This is a beautiful cold hardy palm that is very easy to grow. It is also drought tolerant, inexpensive and readily available at nurseries and discount stores. Like many palms, the pindo produces an elaborate flowering structure called an inflorescence - the orange fruit forms on these structures after the female flowers have been pollinated. In the deep south, a jelly is made from these fruits. They have a terrific taste that starts out like apple and tranforms to tart tropical flavors as it tantalizes the tongue. Too bad the fruit has a large seed and stringy fibrous flesh or I would eat them by the handful!

This palm produces a large quantity of fruit, which can be a nuisance, as ripening fruit attracts wasps and other insects. Remove flower stalks to avoid messy cleanups. The pindo fruits are rather tasty, but you probably don't need 50 pounds of them!

Jack Scheper 08/27/97, updated: js 05/29/99, 06/24/01, 09/3/01, 08/17/03, 05/30/09


Scheper, Jack. "Butia capitata." Floridata Plant Encyclopedia. Created 27 Aug. 1997. Updated 29 May 1999, 24 June 2001, 3 Sept. 2001,17 Aug. 2003, 30 May 2003. Web. 21 Apr. 2014.

Last Updated 22 Apr. 2014 LR

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