Palms, like a lot of other plants, have been threatened by human exploitation and intervention. The most significant threat to palms is habitat destruction, particularly in tropical forests, caused by mining, urbanization, wood chipping, farmland conversion, and other activities. Palms rarely reproduce after such drastic habitat changes, and those with narrow habitat ranges are particularly vulnerable.
Because it is derived from the palm’s apical meristem, a vital component that cannot be regrown (except in domesticated varieties, such as peach palm), the harvesting of heart of palm, a delicacy in salads, also poses a threat.
However, palm conservation is made more difficult by a number of factors. Palms are extremely morphologically diverse and can be found in almost any warm habitat. The majority of palm seeds lose viability quickly, and because cold kills the embryo, they can’t be kept at low temperatures.
Also problematic is the fact that botanical gardens rarely have the capacity to house more than a few species of plants or truly replicate the natural setting when used for conservation purposes.
Since its inception in 1984, the Palm Specialist Group of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has carried out a series of three studies to gather fundamental data regarding the situation of palms in the wild, their use, and palms in cultivation. From 1985 to 1990 and 1986 to 1991, the World Wildlife Fund supported two palm conservation and use projects in the American tropics and southeast Asia, respectively. On palms, both studies produced a wealth of new data and publications. With support from the IUCN, work on a global action plan for palm conservation began in 1991 and was published in 1996.