Can Palm Trees Really Walk?

Walking Palms (Socratea exorrhiza), native to rain forests in tropical Central and South America, are believed to use their unusual stilt roots to ‘walk’ away from their original site of germination to more favourable locations, although somewhat slower than the Ents found in The Lord of the Rings.

During periods of soil erosion or when penetration of sunlight is reduced, it is claimed that the Walking Palm will grow new roots that stretch out towards more fertile ground up to 20 meters away. Then, over the course of a couple of years, it will bend towards its new home as the old roots rot away.

However, there is a growing body of scientific evidence to suggest that this is purely a myth perpetuated by tour guides and that its stilt roots have actually evolved to allow the palm to grow taller towards sunlight without the need for a significant increase in stem diameter.

Moreover, the stability of these roots allow it to grow more quickly because less biomass is required for underground roots and so more energy is available for growth above ground. Sadly, this surplus energy is not used for walking!