Document Type



Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor's Name

Dr. Jennifer H. Richards

First Advisor's Committee Title

committee chair

Second Advisor's Name

Dr. Kenneth Feeley

Second Advisor's Committee Title

committee member

Third Advisor's Name

Dr. Javier Francisco-Ortega

Third Advisor's Committee Title

committee member

Fourth Advisor's Name

Dr. Michael Ross

Fourth Advisor's Committee Title

committee member

Fifth Advisor's Name

Dr. Scott Zona

Fifth Advisor's Committee Title

committtee member


Arecaceae, palms, botany, morphology, architecture, clonal growth

Date of Defense



Palms provide valuable commercial resources in the tropics and are dominant species in tropical lowland forests. While general biology of palms is well studied, there are gaps in the literature on palm growth through life stages and in response to environmental conditions. Literature gaps on palm growth could be caused by the slow growth of palms; it is difficult to monitor morphology and architecture for the periods of time necessary to capture changes. Acoelorrhaphe wrightii is a threatened palm native to southern Florida with an unusual adult architecture. The purpose of this dissertation was to study growth A. wrightii throughout its life stages and in response to changes in environmental conditions. In order to do study growth, I first had to understand the evolutionary history and types of vegetative branching in palms to identify vegetative branching possibilities in A. wrightii. I described branching types for 1903 species from all 181 genera using literature reviews and hands-on analysis. I then studied adult morphology and architecture in a common garden setting by monitoring leaf morphology, ramet growth and architecture of A. wrightii in two gardens in Miami, FL, over a two year period. I tested the effects of water and light on germination and growth of juvenile plants in a mesocosm where water and light were manipulated, following growth for a year. Finally, I compared leaf morphology and architecture of adult individuals in four populations in Belize and Florida. I found five branching types were present in the palms: lateral axillary branching, shoot apical division, false vivipary, abaxial branching and leaf-opposed branching. In the garden, Acoelorrhaphe wrightii displayed two types of lateral axillary branching: basal suckering and rhizomatous branching. The two branching types produced tiers in adult clones, which were used to model architecture. Ramets had an establishment period and growth varied seasonally in establishing and established phases. Low water levels and full sun yielded greater germination of A. wrighti and produced juveniles with a greater number of leaves, more root mass and more branches. Variability between populations and environmental conditions was observed in adult individuals in the field but differences were minimal.





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