As you’re taking in the awesome splendor of Colombia’s Cocora Valley, walking in the shadow of the tallest palm trees in the world—the mighty wax palm—take a moment to appreciate the quiet grandeur of these amazing giants. Hernae in the Central Cordillera of the Andes Mountains, in a valley named for a Quimbayan princess, the Quindio wax palm has been named the national tree and symbol of Colombia—in fact, the government has been authorized to offer land within the valley to those who plan to create national parks and sanctuaries devoted to the conservation of the wax palm.
Large clusters of the wax palms contain hundreds of trees each, and the towering palms often jut their way through the clouds that cover the valley for a surreal sight. The trees grow up to 160 feet high and have a life span of up to 120 years. Dark green, grayish leaves and wax-covered cylindrical trunks are the tree’s calling card. In the past, the trunk wax has been used to make soap and candles, while the fruit fed local cattle and pigs. Parts of the stem were used to build houses and irrigation systems for farmers.
But now—it’s not just the wax palm that is demanding conservation to keep its population intact. The rare yellow-eared parrot, which is endemic to the cloud forest, is dependent on the endemic wax palm for its home. In saving the wax palm, conservationists are also preserving one of the world’s most endangered parrots. The Catholic church has done its part in recent years to turn the tide, with many Andean parishes (and more around the world) eschewing the use of wax palms in their Palm Sunday celebrations, even though this palm has been used in some churches for as many as 1,000 years. While some pastors agree that the longevity of use implies that the tradition must continue, and that “God will not let the wax palm run out,” others have altered their practice slightly—a parish in Bogota blessed palm seedlings instead, therefore cementing a pact the Roman Catholic Church and environmentalists have made to save the yellow-eared parrot and its nesting place.
Savor the views of these grand trees, kissing the clouds or poking through the mist depending the time of day in the valley—and keep an eye out for playful hummingbirds, red-and-blue masked trogons, and, hopefully, the yellow-eared parrot.