Benedict Roezl

Finder of the Arizona Fan Palm

November 4, 1984
On this day, the Arizona Republic newspaper shared an article about the history of the native palm of Arizona written by Vic Miller, a professor of agriculture at Arizona State University.

The article starts this way:

"Yes, we do have a native palm. Seeds of it were collected in Arizona; taken to Belgium and grown in a nursery; [where it was observed] and named by a German botanist, but [it is not called the Arizona Fan Palm,] it is called the California Fan Palm."

The mystery of the California Fan Palm was not about how it got its name but rather where it came from - California or Arizona.

In 1976, researchers made a discovery that helped solve the 100-year-old mystery.
Here's the fascinating backstory:

In 1879, a German botanist, Herman von Wendland, saw the palms growing in a Belgium nursery. He named the palm Washingtonia filifera “Washing-TONE-ee-ah fill-IF-er-ah”  in honor of George Washington. The name seemed appropriate since Wendland only knew that the seeds for the palms had been collected in America. Wendland had no idea which state was home to the palms.

Three years earlier, in 1876, the German botanist Georg Drude had noted that the seed was collected in Arizona, along the Colorado River. An [Italian botanist, Dr. Francesco Franceschi, also said that the palms were] from Arizona.

But a Stanford botanist named Samuel Parish disagreed. Parish knew that the area where the seeds were supposedly collected was near Prescott. According to Parish, this was "a region of pines rather than of palms." To Parish, the seeds had to come from California. But what Parish didn't realize is that there were small groves of Arizona palms roughly 38 miles from Prescott - near Castle Creek.

Next, the researchers wondered how the Arizona Palm seeds ended up in Belgium?

Well, it turns out, the 1870's stagecoach line went right along Castle Creek to Prescott, Arizona, and then onto Santa Fe, New Mexico. In September 1872, the Czech botanist and Extreme Orchid Hunter Benedict Roezl was in that part of the Southwest on his way to Mexico. Roezl likely bought some of the ripe purple fruit from those Castle Creek Arizona Palms and then sent the fruit back to Germany with his other specimens.

And that is how the Arizona Fan Palm was named the California Fan Palm by a German Botanist who saw them growing in Belgium.

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Benedict Roezl
Benedict Roezl

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