Above you see an eight-ft-tall (2.5m) palm common in much of the Yucatan, Sabal yapa. North Americans are familiar with palmetto palms of the US Deep South, which also are members of the genus Sabal. Most of the palm's fronds in the above picture have been removed because the Maya use them for thatching roofs.

When identifying palms a point to keep in mind is that the vast majority of palm species fall neatly into one of two broad groups: the feather-leaved or pinnate palms, such as the Coconut Palm, whose leaf segments arise from a rachis passing through the center of a long leaf blade, like pinnae arising from the rachis of a feather, and; the fan palms, whose leaf segments radiate from the top of the leaf stem, or petiole, forming a ± circular blade. Palmettos such as the Thatch Palm are regarded as fan palms.

Thatch Palms can grow into tall, slender-trunked trees, as you can see in the picture of three Huanos in different stages of development below.


At this writing the writer is living in a Maya-style hut on the grounds of Hacienda Chichen Resort adjacent to Chichén Itzá ruins. I was here several years ago when Thatch Palm fronds were used to thatch the hut's roof. Below you see what the hut looked like in an early stage.

THATCH PALM thatch in bundles

After chopping off each of the frond's stems, or petioles, so they'd be the same length, the men tied together bunches of them so they could be raised to their working spot on the roof, by rope, as shown below

THATCH PALM, thatching

Below, you can see what the house looked like after the first hour of thatching:

THATCH PALM thatching

One reason Thatch Palm fronds are favored over other palm species is because of how the fronds' petioles extend like a midrib into the fanlike blade. Below you can see from inside the hut how the fronds hook onto a roof pole.

THATCH PALM thatch from inside hut

After I had lived in the hut a few weeks, the green thatch turned straw color. I love living in this hut, and I'm always thankful to the Thatch Palm.