Thursday, August 21, 2008

Just a Plain Old Palm

A fellow gardener was talking about a planting bed and mentioned that it contained a palm. When asked, "What kind of palm?", she replied, "Oh, just a plain old palm". Upon further prodding I was surprised at the lack of knowledge (or interest) she had in palm trees. For me, much of the charm of the Lower Rio Grande Valley is our palms. I get great pleasure driving along the Expressway and looking out over the tops of the Washingtonias that line the roadways. And it's always a thrill to come across a large Canary Island Date Palm. So many of ours died in the 80s from lethal yellowing that it's a treat to see one that survived. Needless to say, I think that every gardener in our area should have an appreciation of and at least basic knowledge of the palms that grow here. So, over the next few months, I'll be sharing a little bit about palms in general - especially those that grow well in our area.

Just look at how many different palms there are in this one picture!

Now, for our palm primer. Palms are divided into two categories: fan palms and feather palms. The fan and feather refers to the shape of the leaf.

Clearly, the palm at the right is a fan palm.

I call the form on the left an open fan (I don't think "open fan" is a real term - but I think it's pretty descriptive). This is a Rhapis excelsa or Lady Palm leaf.

Mixed planting of fan palms

Our native Texas Sabal, Sabal texana, with Mediterranean Fan Palms, Chamerops humilis, in the front. The two in the middle front look to be something different but I can't tell from my picture - possibly a Windmill Palm, Trachycarpus fortunii.

Feather palms look like a feather. They have pinnate leaf which is formed by many small individual leaflets coming off the petiole. Below is an example of a feather palm. This is a Silver Date, Phoenix sylvestris. Feather palms tend to be very billowy. I think it gives them a very exotic look. The number of fronds (or branches) on this variety sure makes it look lush! Did you notice how the leaf margins have remained on the trunk? Palm people will say, "This variety keeps its boots".
Mixed planting of feather palms.

The tall ones are Foxtails, Wodyetia bifurcata and the short ones are Pygmy Date Palms, Phoenix roebelinii. New palm enthusiast almost always prefer feather palms over fan palms. But I love to mix both leaf shapes. In the combination above, the uprightness of the Chinese Fans, Livinstonia chinesis, contrasts wonderfully with the short Pygmy Dates in the front and right and mid-sized Pindo Palm, Butia capitata in the middle.

If you hear the word, inflourescence, they are referring to the bloom stem. This green one is on a Pygmy Date.

Count up the number of different palms pictured in this short post. There are hundreds of different types with wonderfully unique characteristics. I hope that you will take a closer look at the palms around you.


Aunt Debbi/kurts mom said...

Sounds like neighbors or ours who ask me about their rose bush. I ask what variety, they answer "A red one."

Anonymous said...

I have never wanted a tropical garden, and I've often discounted palms too. But no longer! Your recent excellent posts on palms have shown me the variety and beauty of this ancient plant. I prefer the fan palms to the feather, and I even planted a native Sabal minor this year. I may have to think bigger someday.

Jane O' said...

Being from Michigan, I had no idea there were so many varieties.

Unknown said...

Great info, Mary Beth. I have a palm here, definitely a fan palm. But more ID than that and I am lost. It has the little teeth all along the stem leading up to the fan. A few hairs come off of the fan.

I'll definitely pay more attention to the palms I see. I do really like the feather palms as well.

Anonymous said...

I know zero about palms I'm afraid, other than I want to live where they do someday....
vey informative post tho Mary Beth.

Anonymous said...

You are right Mary Beth Palms are fascinating. I have planted many from the ones you mentioned and I love and enjoy them all. Have you got a golden cane palm. I have a 20year old specimen and it is magnificent.My daughter is in the process of planting a palmarium it is such a pleasure. Thank you for all your information it is very helpful.

Aiyana said...

I really love those Feather Palms. They are new to me. I don't think they would do well here as I think they need higher humidity that we have. Sure would like a couple though.