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It is not as bad as it looks.

No, this is not wheat. It is the larger of the two Mexican fan palms that I dug and canned more than a week ago. ‘Wheat’ refers to the unpleasant phase that it is now going through. It is a long and awkward story about how it became known as the ‘wheat’ phase. All that anyone should know is that it refers to the color of the fading foliage. It fades from green to golden brown, just like ‘wheat’.

I say that the explanation is awkward because it involves an old skit by an offensive comedian on HBO in 1986, when the renowned landscape designer, Brent Green, was my college roommate.

Yes, we will just leave it at that.

Anyway, this is not at all unexpected. It is a normal process. I just wish it could be avoided. Every time I dig and can a palm, I hope that it will not happen; and I actually engage the associated palm as if it will somehow be different from the rest, and maintain all of its healthy green foliage. Some get through it more efficiently. Some start to produce new foliage before their old foliage dies off.

I actually relocated a mature windmill palm that somehow maintained the upper half of its canopy until it started to produce new foliage. That was all the fronds that were above a right angle to the trunk! I was impressed by that one. It was very different though. Most of the roots had already been damaged prior to relocation. Also, it was relocated in autumn, so had all winter to start recovery.

This unfortunate palm was dug not very long ago, just as the cool and rainy weather of winter was ending. Now that the weather is suddenly warming to around 80 degrees, the foliage is resuming vascular activity that the severed roots can not sustain. To compensate, it will shed this foliage that is now browning, while diverting resources into new foliage and roots. It knows what it is doing.

The new fronds that are still folded up in the middle are just fine. They will unfold into healthy new fronds as the palm recovers through summer. The first few fronds might be a bit stunted, but that is just part of the process. Newly relocated palms tend to accelerate foliar growth during such recovery, so, in just a few months, this cute little palm may look as good as it did when I canned it here.

14 thoughts on “Wheat

    1. Palms do not compost well. When I eventually cut the fronds off of this one, they will go into the trash or dumped into the forest. They can not even go into greenwaste, because they are too fibrous to be easily ground up by the machinery that processes other greenwaste. I am not too concerned about it being ugly. I just wish I had not put it in such a prominent spot. I might move it. I seriously hope that they guy who took the other does not discard it for being so ugly. If it is sheltered, it may go through the process slower, and he may not notice.

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      1. They also contain a lot of silica.
        In Southern California, and to some extend, here as well, there are arborists who prune only palms and big yuccas, because the other arborists would rather not do so. Those who work on palms must charge more for disposal of the debris, as well as for the extra maintenance of their machinery. Palms dull their saws and chippers faster than other trees do.

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      2. Not only do palms need specialized maintenance, but the more familiar big sorts get too big to be maintained without climbing them. It is something I must warn clients about. Hiring arborists to groom them is a major expense.

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  1. I have several of these – or at least I think they are the same! i never knew they were called Mexican palm fans. the established palms produce orange berries which the birds love. I am pleased you rescued yours from the dumpster 🙂

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    1. The fruit of Mexican fan palm is not orange for very long. It quickly turns red and then black, and hangs on the tree like caviar. It is the most common palm on the West Coast between about San Francisco and San Diego. However, it is not common in other regions where palms are popular, such as Florida and the South Coast of Texas. I think that it is so popular here because it does not mind the lack of humidity. Anyway, there are likely a completely different set of palms that are popular in your region. The fruit of Mediterranean fan palm stays orange a bit longer, but it also turns black. I do not know what fan palms produce fruit that stays orange as it ripens enough for birds to eat it.

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