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Garfield Park Conservatory’s rare Double Coconut Palm dies

A rare double coconut palm has died after surviving for 45 years Garfield Park Conservatory. / phofrom Chicago Park District

A rare double coconut palm has died after surviving for 45 years at the Garfield Park Conservatory. / photo from Chicago Park District

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Updated: March 17, 2012 10:18AM

A towering presence at Garfield Park Conservatory has died.

The West Side conservatory’s Double Coconut Palm, which was 45 years old, died for unknown reasons. The 20-foot high tree with leaves as wide as 10-feet was the largest specimen of its kind in a greenhouse anywhere, officials said in announcing the death Wednesday.

“We are shocked and saddened by this great loss,” Mary Eysenbach, the Chicago Park District’s Director of Conservatories, said in a written statement. “... We are still looking for answers as to what led to its demise. It’s very rare to find a Double Coconut thriving inside a greenhouse and we really have no precedence in helping us find the answers.”

Eysenbach said around Christmas, a new leaf emerged, but deteriorated within two weeks. Staff “noticed a drastic change in the physical appearance of the Double Coconut and immediately began taking measures to save it,” the written statement said.

That included taking soil samples to determine if there were any issues with nutrients or toxicity and taking tissue samples to look for potential pathogens.

Staff also sent images to palm experts across the globe for help in finding a cause of death, officials said.

The palm had been featured at Garfield Park since 1967 after an earlier attempt to grow a plant there failed.

Staff bought a seed for $25, then dug a six-foot silo and lined it with lead coil in order “to maintain the 80 degree temperature necessary for the seed to grow,” officials said.

The plant, with seed pods that weighed 40 to 50 pounds, drew international attention. Former conservatory director Lisa Roberts once called it “the single most important plant in this entire conservatory.”

The plant did so well that in 2003 it was moved from its original spot at the southern end of the Palm House to a place with a higher ceiling.

While the last leaf was removed last week, the trunk will remain out of hope a new leaf might grow. But it’s a long shot at best.

“We are 99.9 percent certain it is dead, but it never hurts to hold on to hope,” Eysenbach said.

Sadly, officials say its is “unlikely” they will be able to replace the palm. It is native to the Seychelles Islands, which limits the “trade of its nuts and cultivated plants in order to preserve the endangered remaining native stands,” the statement said.

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