Palms as keystone species

A fruiting palm tree standing beside a road

Like figs, palms produce fruit several times throughout a year. In between the fruiting seasons of other trees, palms make up a large portion of the diet of many urban fruit eating animals, especially birds.

Many palm fruit are adapted to be eaten by birds, these are usually small in size, round and dark blue black to red in colour. The seeds of these palms are often spread by the birds that feed on them, making them very common in wild patches all over the city. 

Red fruits of Alexander Palm (Archontophoenix alexandrae)

Even invasive palms such as oil palm can have ecosystem function for bird and mammal life. Fruiting trees are often visited by starlings, green pigeons, tree shrews and squirrels.

Palm flowers are also beneficial to many pollinators. These flowers grow in large pollen-rich clusters that often attract pollen feeders such as stingless bees. Coconut palms are often grown near stingless bee farms because of the food that they supply to the bee colonies.

These features make palms a keystone species in supporting wildlife in urban environments. Fortunately, many palms are grown as ornamental plants, and in many wild patches throughout the city they are sown by birds and make up large portion of our urban forests.