Six on Saturday: Fan Club

Palms are not as popular here as they are in Southern California. Furthermore, they are less popular in the Santa Cruz Mountains than they are in the Santa Clara Valley below. There are so many more refined landscapes in the Santa Clara Valley, and they contain many more exotic species. In the Santa Cruz Mountains, cutting trees down is more of a priority than adding more.

Besides, palms look silly with redwoods. Of these palms, which are mostly fan palms, only the Mexican fan palm will get planted as the winter rain starts. The others remain canned for now.

These palms are quite the Fan Club.

1. Arecastrum (Syagrus) romanzoffianum, queen palm – is not eligible for membership in this exclusive Fan Club. It is ‘feather palm’, rather than a ‘fan palm’. Therefore, no queens allowed.

2. Brahea armata, hesper palm – is a most distinguished fan palm. It is quite rare. Like the California fan palm, it prefers warm and dry summers, so can languish if irrigated too frequently.

3. Trachycarpus fortunei, windmill palm – is the opposite. It is quite common, and could be even more common, since it is not at all discriminating, and is proportionate to compact gardens.

4. Washingtonia robusta, Mexican fan palm – had the been the most common palm locally prior to the queen palm fad of the 1990s. Unfortunately, it gets very tall. Notice the lingering ash.

5. Washingtonia filifera, California fan palm – is an aspiring member that recently grew from an old seed. It is also known as desert fan palm, and is the only palm that is native to California.

6. ‘A BIG STICK’ was the only ‘club’ I could find for this Fan Club. No one knows what it is, where it came from, . . . or anything about it. I think it is a wheelbarrow or post hole digger handle.

This is the link for Six on Saturday, for anyone else who would like to participate:

Bad Wine

I believe that this is a young Chilean wine palm, although I am not certain.

Italian Americans, particularly Californians, are expected to be experts in regard to wine. I am not. I can not explain it. I dislike wine, especially the best of it. It smells and tastes like rotten grapes. When I learned that Chilean wine palms were, and might still be, decapitated for the collection of their sap, from which wine is made, I learned yet another reason to dislike wine.

This little Chilean wine palm, Jubaea chilensis, pictured above, lives just a block or so away from the bad date palm that I wrote about last Sunday. No one here will try to make wine from its sap. The utility cables that seem to be too close in the background actually pass with plenty of clearance to the right, so will not be a problem in the future. This young palm should be safe.

Although I have encountered too few of the species in my career to be completely certain that this little palm is a well bred Chilean wine palm, it is very convincing. I see no indication that it is a hybrid of another species. About half of the Chilean wine palms that I encounter are hybrids. Most of these are hybrids of queen palm. Others are hybrids of pindo palm. Both look weird.

Of course, well bred Chilean wine palms are not much better. The specimen pictured below demonstrates that, regardless of how bold and striking they are, they are still rather weird palms. That is probably why they are so rare now. They were rare even during the Victorian Period, when weird species were trendy. Yet to many, their distinctive weirdness is part of their allure.

I can not help but wonder where this Chilean wine palm came from. Someone must really appreciate it to put it here.

Chilean wine palm is not a good houseplant.

Bad Date

No one likes a bad date.

Date orchards that were displaced by the expansion of urban sprawl around Las Vegas in the 1990s were the source of the many recycled mature date palms that briefly became popular for large scale landscapes at the time. Most of the trees within the orchards were female, with only a few male pollinators. (Pollinators can live remotely, where they provide pollen for dusting.)

Male trees were undesirable anyway, at least in conjunction with female trees. They are taller and lankier, with less pendulous foliage, so are less visually appealing. More importantly, they pollinate female flowers so that they make fruit. Of course, in orchards, fruit is very important. In landscapes, it is just a mess. Without male pollinators, female trees produce no messy fruit.

Consequently, most male trees were not recycled. Some were installed singly, or in exclusively male colonies, in landscapes that were reasonably isolated from female trees. After decades of dutiful service, this is how they were retired, . . . or not.

During the brief date palm fad, a colony of exclusively female date palms at a mall near here produced a minor crop of dates during its second year after installation. It was not a major mess, but it was perplexing. Eventually, someone realized that a single relatively small male date palm lived just outside of the landscaped areas. It likely grew there from seed as a curb mongrel.

Even though the male tree was too remote to pollinate the female trees sufficiently for a major mess, it was removed. It was not much bigger than the short and clumping date palm pictured above. This tree seems to be a curb mongrel as well, since it was not likely planted there purposely. Furthermore, it will also likely need to be removed. It is too close to the building behind.


This is one of the several Canary Island date palms that Brent Green saved from poachers on the embankment of the Santa Monica Freeway.

Since I began posting my gardening column articles here, and supplementing with blog posts, I have deviated from horticultural topics only a few times. I will now do it again. I had earlier selected a horticultural topic for this post. It will wait for now.

Brent Green, my colleague down south, called me on the telephone to tell me to watch the news. I did so, but only briefly. It was just too crazy. So far, I have made a point of saying nothing about Coronavirus. I said nothing about those who protest the violation of their right to spread disease that will kill others. I mentioned nothing about the racist murderers in Minneapolis.

Now I see that people are senselessly rioting and looting in several cities in America.

The office building of the Canyon News, one of the newspapers that I write for, was clearly visible in the background as police helicopters showed looting of stores on the historic Rodeo Drive in Downtown Beverly Hills, in the region of Los Angeles. Police cars and palm trees were burning. From three hundred and fifty miles away, I can see it online.

This is not demonstration or protest. It is looting. It is mere opportunistic thievery. Those involved are not at all concerned about social justice, their own Communities, or that Black Lives Matter. They are exploiting an already bad situation to plunder what they can get away with.

This is happening in the Community where Brent Green has been planting his Birthday Trees (in quantities that corresponds to his age at the time) in public spaces for the past twenty two years. This is near where Brent Green saved several Canary Island date palms on the Santa Monica Freeway from poachers. This is a region that many people care about.


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.

Six on Saturday: Moving Day

A neighbor family relocated to a new home a short distance away. The former home needs such major repair that it may instead be demolished and replaced. For now, it remains abandoned. I collected a few plants from the abandoned garden so that some could be relocated to the new home. So far, only two Philodendron selloum and one Mexican fan palm went. The rest remain here, and may actually go to other homes.

1. In all my career, I have never seen a trunk of a palm shrivel from desiccation like this. All of the now absent roots were desiccated also. I seriously doubt that this queen palm will survive.P00418-1

2. It got canned anyway. Without significant roots, it certainly did not need all this medium. It only got a #15 can so that the shriveled trunk could be buried, sort of like a weird palm cutting.P00418-2

3. This lemon tree was almost left behind because it is so mutilated. It looks a bit suspicious too, sort of like shaddock understock of a formerly grafted tree. Actually, it is ‘Ponderosa’ lemon.P00418-3

4. The smaller of two Mexican fan palms got canned into a #5 can until it starts to produce new roots and foliage. Actually, only the queen palm and the big Mexican fan palm got larger cans.P00418-4

5. This bigger Mexican fan palm got a squat #20 can because the trunk is wider than a #5 can. There are not very many roots in there yet. It got left here to divert traffic around the garden.P00418-5

6. These three Philodendron selloum were all I originally wanted to salvage. One lacks foliage for now. The other can that seems to be empty contains bare tubers of an unidentified heliconia.P00418-6

This is the link for Six on Saturday, for anyone else who would like to participate:

Six on Saturday: Talk To The Palm


That is how horticulturists say, “Talk to the hand.” During the past three and a half decades that I have been working with landscape designer, Brent Green, I have deduced that there is not a specimen of Washingtonia filifera in the Santa Clara Valley, or anywhere else for that mater, who is any more interested by what I have to say than he is. Nonetheless, I appreciate palms.

1. Rats! I thought that was who chewed on a petiole of my favorite young windmill palm from Western San Jose. However, this picture shows several small slices made with a straight blade!P00222-1

2. Pleats of an aging fronds of the same windmill palm demonstrate that surfaces exposed to the south deteriorate before those exposed to the north. The frond was tilted up for this picture.P00222-2

3. Windmill palm seedling is one of a few that I pulled from a landscape nearby, but could not bear to discard without at least trying to find a home for them; as if we need another palm here.P00222-3

4. Hesper palm is more interesting. I brought two here while they were nearly dead. The other did not survive. This one tried to recover, died back again, and is now trying to recover again.P00222-4

5. McCurtain scrub palm seed that I was so pleased to procure earlier is what is obscured just below the surface in this flat. I am concerned that the compost might not have been ready.P00222-5

6. Seed of other odd species of palm were found in a package that had been in storage for a few years. As if we need another palm here, all will get sown. Sadly, few are likely to still be viable.P00222-6

This is the link for Six on Saturday, for anyone else who would like to participate:

Scrub Palm

104 seeds for the price of 10!

Of all the strange seed I brought back from Oklahoma, none were from the scrub palm, Sabal minor, that is endemic to McCurtain County in the very southeaster corner of Oklahoma. I did not get to that region.

Sabal minor is nothing special to those who are acquainted with it. However, a variety that was selected from those in McCurtain County, which is known simply as Sabal minor ‘McCurtain’, is becoming increasingly popular in climates where winter weather is too cold for other palms. It is sufficiently resilient to frost to survive in New England and Canada.

I just wanted it because it is from Oklahoma.

Since I did not collect any wild seed, I had considered purchasing a seedling of the ‘McCurtain’ variety online. It would have been rather expensive for a single seedling. I was pleased to find seed of the same variety that were significantly less expensive for several seed. I know they grow slowly, but I am in no hurry. I gain bragging rights as soon as the seed germinate.

Unexpectedly, I was even more pleased to find seed on eBay that were collected from trees that were collected from the wild in McCurtain County, but were not of the ‘McCurtain’ variety! I know that seems trivial, and maybe even less desirable to those who want a garden variety, but for me, such seed are more closely related to those I would have collected if I had been there.

For $6.00, I expected delivery of a packet of ten seed of Sabal minor from McCurtain County. I could not pass on a deal like that. Instead, I got the 104 seed in the picture above! That is ten times what I was expecting. They will grow into more scrub palms than my garden can accommodate. RAD!

Herbaceous Trees

P91005KPalms are like ‘Red Delicious’ apples. It seems that most people dislike them; but they also seem to be very popular. Seriously, if only a few people like ‘Red Delicious’ apples, why are they so common in supermarkets? If most of us dislike palms, why are they so common in the San Jose Skyline?

I suspect that palms really are as unpopular as they seem to be, but that they are also very conspicuous within their situations. Not only are they focal points of the landscapes in which they live, but most types eventually stand as tall as the tallest trees in the neighborhood, and some get significantly taller. They are innately the most prominent trees within their neighborhoods.

Palm are not like other trees though. Arborists may classify them as ‘herbaceous trees’. They are foliar plants while young, producing increasingly large leaves from terrestrial rosettes. They only ‘launch’ and start to develop their trunks after the formerly terrestrial rosettes have grown wide enough to do so.

Not only are their trunks no wider than their associated foliar rosettes, but they get no wider as they grow taller. The base of a trunk of a palm is as wide when the tree is only a few feet tall as it will be when the tree grows to forty feet tall. Mexican fan palms are only wider at their bases because they start out like that.

Palms with slender trunks can launch much sooner than those with wider trunks. It does not take long for their rosettes to get as wide as their trunks. Canary Island date palms have rather plump trunks, so may need to mature for many years before they launch.

Yuccas and dracaenas are not really palms. Their trunks expand and develop branches as they grow and mature.

Trees Need Clearance From Utilities

30320thumbPalm trunks grow in only one direction; upward, toward sunlight and away from gravity. Each trunk is equipped with only a single terminal bud. If that bud encounters an obstacle, it can not be pruned around it. Palm trunks that get get too close to high voltage cables, or that might sway too close with a breeze, must therefore be removed to maintain minimal clearance from the cables.

Queen palms are notorious for getting planted under high voltage cables because they are so often impulse purchases that get planted without much planning. They are popularly planted along rear fences, exactly where high voltage cables are often located. Mexican fan palms often grow along rear fences as well because that is where birds and rodents are likely to drop the seeds.

Trees with single central leaders, like redwoods, spruces and certain pines, will be disfigured if their main trunks need to be topped for clearance from cables. Removal of such trees is often more practical than this sort of disfigurement. More extensively branched trees like sycamores, ashes, oaks and elms, are more adaptable to clearance pruning if it is not too severely disfiguring.

It is much simpler to not plant trees that get too large under high voltage cables. Elsewhere in the garden, where there is enough lateral (side) clearance, vertical clearance is not such a problem for larger trees. Small trees like redbud, purple leaf plum, photinia and various pittosporums, either do not get tall enough to reach upper cables, or will require only minimal pruning for clearance.

Below high voltage cables, the lower cables are for lower voltage, telephone and television. ‘House-drops’ are the cables that extend from utility poles to houses and other buildings. Although clearance is not so important for these lower risk cables, limbs that lean on them and blow around in wind can be abrasive. Sagging limbs can cause utility cables to sag more than they should.

Unfortunately, those who prune trees for utility clearance are efficient, but rarely arboriculturally correct.