Farmers and technicians interested in growing xate in Belize can view or print our growers manual here Xate in Belize, A Growers Guide.

What is xate?

Xate (sha-tay) are leaves from three Chamaedorea palm species (C. elegans, C. oblongata and C. ernesti-augustii) used in the floral industry. They are used commercially because they are attractive leaves that can last for up to 45 days after being cut. This makes them popular for flower arrangements, Palm Sunday services and decoration.

The leaves are harvested from palms in the forests of Mexico, Guatemala and Belize where they grow naturally. Many people, called xateros, rely on the harvest of palm leaves as their source of income. Unfortunately so much leaf is collected it has made a large impact on the health and population of the palms in the wild.

The trouble with xate

Xate in general but particularly Chamaedorea ernesti-augustii , also called fishtail, is causing a stir in Belize. Fishtail leaf has been overcollected in the forests of Guatemala and now xateros, from Guatemala, risk crossing the Belizean border to gather the leaf. These xateros generally earn less than USD$5 a day, it is the middlemen and exporters who benefit the most from this illegal harvest.

Unfortunately it comes with a high price to the forests of Belize. Not only are Chamaedorea palms threatened by xatero activities but xateros have also been responsible for the looting of artifacts from Maya sites, poaching young scarlet macaws to sell and collecting other plants and seeds such as the ‘ponytail palm’ (Nolina sp.). They also hunt for food while working in the forest killing agouti, deer, guan and tapir, Belize’s national animal.

Social and political issues are involved as well. Xateros generally earn less than USD$5 a day. It is the middlemen and exporters who tend to benefit the most from illegal harvest of xate. Belize and Guatemala have a history of dispute of their common border and having an estimated 600 Guatemalan xateros working illegally in Belize is an issue that has commanded attention. Organizations on both sides of the border are working to solve the problems xate collection has caused for the enviroment, people and governments.

Healthy Harvest

Sustainably growing xate is one way to protect their populations. Belize Botanic Gardens is working with organizations such as the Itzamna Society, Ya’axche Conservation Trust and ACICAFOC on helping to create a fair and environmentally sound xate industry in Belize. BBG will provide information, seeds and plants to Belizean farmers. This is part of a Natural History Museum project funded by the Darwin Initiative. Farmers who would like to grow organic xate can contact us for more information. The growers guide is available here.

The xate palms growing at Belize Botanic Gardens are: Chamaedorea elegans called xate hembra or parlour palms, Chamaedorea oblongata called xate macho and Chamaedorea ernesti-augustii called fishtail.

Xate free, the way to be (for now)

Make a difference by making sure that your flower arrangements come without xate leaves or that the xate leaves come from a sustainable source. There is currently very little sustainable fishtail available but this should be changing in the next few years as projects in Guatemala and Belize begin harvesting.