Recently, Ranter Allen Bush drew our attention to an NPR segment on the problem with palm trees in Florida. In Miami Beach, they make up almost 60% of the tree canopy (mainly the familiar Royal palms), but, as you can imagine, don’t provide much shade. Local arborists and city officials are trying to be as subtle as possible, adding more shade trees without displacing too many of the beloved palms.
I am a regular visitor to another Florida area, Key West (shown in top photo), which is also blessed with many palms (the commonly used “palm” represents a sprawling group of genera with many different shapes and forms). Sure, I see the familiar towering varieties, which many say look out of place, around my beach hotel. In fact, I posted from Key West in 2019 and got this comment on the photo above: “The excessive amount of silly palms show an irrational infatuation that ruins every imaginable garden installation. Palms clash with every bush, tree, plants one can think of. Heights with bare trunks and tons of heavy fronds and seeds that take forever to decompose unless reduced with a powerful shredder.”
I do enjoy the tall ones, especially in a beach setting, but there are lots of shorter palm varieties that play very nicely in a tropical garden situation (as above). Key West-based garden designer Patrick Tierney, who passed away in May, 2020, was known as a palm collector and expert who used his personal garden as a research station for rare varieties. He’s known for designing the Key West library gardens as well as many private commissions, including a large estate in Sunset Key that received an Architectural Digest write-up. I was urged to look him up when I made my January 2020 trip and missed the opportunity.
Triangle palms (neodypsis), buccaneer palms (pseudophoenix, lady palms (rhapsis), and other small-to-medium varieties can be found throughout Key West and mix well with the draecaenae, crotons, musa, heliconia, alocasia, and bougainvillea, among many others. Of course, almost everything requires rigorous pruning in this climate.
My Key West visit last month made me feel more defensive of palms than ever; certainly, this is a not a group of plants that deserves a wholesale write-off. It’s just too big and has too many wildly diverse species. Had I a garden in the appropriate area, I would certainly search out some interesting palm varieties.
Edit: Though the NPR article does refer to palm “trees,” only some of this huge group of plants take a single-trunk form; others are multi-stemmed and vining. I have tried to keep to the single word “palms” except for the NPR reference.
I wonder if the opposition comes from some level of native/non-native purism as I believe there are just over ten palms native to Florida, and many popular landscaping palms are non-native. Just a thought…. – MW
I haven’t seen these landscapes with palms, but we did have a fashion a while ago for introducing tree ferns into uk gardens.
The problem was more an aesthetic incongruity than a native/non native thing – which of course makes no sense here.
But people loved them. 🙁
I dream of sunny days and tropical breezes in winter and luckily (sometimes) travel for a week where I can enjoy postcard palms. I have grown the shrubby, dwarf palmetto palm in Kentucky for 6 or 8 years. Sabal minor ‘McCurtain’ has been flourishing and even set seeds last year. Granted, this hardy palm, originally found in McCurtain County, Oklahoma, is not going to knock anyone’s socks off on Ocean Drive in Miami, but I don’t care. It’s perfectly happy on the south side of our house, and made it through -20 F a few years ago next to a dryer vent.
Right plant, right place, pride of place (I remember that one by the dryer vent.) Better run the dryer over the next few days!
I believe that where appropriate, climate-wise, palms add a textural interest unique to them. As far as being ‘tall with little shade, those of us in the south deal with that regularly with our native loblolly pines (Pinus taeda), that unless thickly spaced offer very little shade and tons of fallen needles and cones, yet tew would dispense with them.
Miami is also looking to rehome peacocks (I’d rather have a palm):
The palm trees are the charm of Florida! But yes, I can attest to diversifying and adding more shaded trees.
I’ve been hearing about Florida’s new quest for shade trees. God knows they need them to cool their roads and sidewalks. The super tall palms do often look out of place, and probably don’t contribute much ecologically (except maybe as an erosion control measure?). An understory palm, though, is a thing of languid beauty, especially in combination with broadleaf evergreens. Together these two textures can contribute to dense wildlife habitat. My city of Augusta, Georgia is dotted tastefully with them, especially around many of the old downtown churches.
As I understand it, palms are inferior to broadleaved species when it comes to sequestering carbon, so I guess this might be another reason to look to diversify the planting. Don’t get me wrong though, I absolutely love palms and manage to grow 6 species across 5 genera in my little London garden. No coconuts though!
Here in a far different climate palms are a major freely reseeding weed and serious fire hazard. Location, location, location.
Pro palm. All varieties. Love the classic silhouette.
Locally we can only grow sabal minor, windmill palms and needle palms in the ground.
Interesting note. Palms and musa basjoo (or any banana) are technically grasses. They can easily be damaged by Grass be Gone. Grass be Gone is an herbicide that helps kill grass without doing much damage to broad leaf shrubs.
They can easily be visualize as a grass by watching them being transplanted.
The roots are cut off and the fronds are cut off down to the spear tip. It looks like an 8 foot long stick with a bit of green sticking out of the top.
If you have ever planted beach grass spears for dune replenishment the coconut palms look like a giant version of that.
This link mentions that palms are very poor at carbon sequestration. Especially compared to Miami natives like beautiful live oaks. The beautiful live oaks grow almost as slowly as the palms. They also hate being transplanted at any mature size.
Carbon sequestration of palms vs live oaks is not going to solve Miami’s future flooding problems.
Nor is it going to solve Norfolk, Virginia’s problems. Norfolk already has ‘nuisance flooding’ from King tides that require closing flood gates in the downtown area.
New Orleans has been sitting below sea level for years. Norfolk will survive, but many changes are in store.
MORE blastng NOISY MUSIC, so I cannot read GardenRant.
J. A, Kruza
Duplicate comment detected; it looks as though you’ve already said that! RIGHT …
Some small palm trees are perfect for planting in gardens as they just reach heights of 6 to 9 ft. (1.8 – 2.7 m) tall
Some species of palm trees are among the tallest trees in the world. Although palm trees don’t grow as tall as Californian sequoia trees, the Wax Palm in Colombia can reach heights of 200 ft. (60 m).