By ANN BLOCK
Special to The Breeze
I must admit it, I’m in love with palm trees. Imagine my surprise when we moved to Florida from the Northeast to discover so many varieties over 3,000 worldwide. So how to identify palm trees? Looking at the shape of palm fronds (leaves) is the first step. There are two basic shapes or types of fronds pinnate fronds (feather-like leaves) or palmate fronds (fan-like leaves). Also check out the trunks. Some have long slender single trunks and others have short fat palm trunks. Others are dwarf palms with bushy pinnate fronds and no trunk.
Palm trees are classified as Arecaceae. Wikipedia states, “The Arecaceae are a botanical family of perennial flowering plants in the monocot order Arecales. Their form can be climbers, scrubs, tree-like and stemless plants, all commonly known as palms. Those having a tree like form are colloquially called palm trees.” So that gives us a formal definition, but I must say that more importantly for me palms give that magical feeling conjuring up my idea of a tropical paradise!
After researching the history of the palm “tree,” I found that the palm is a symbol of life. And that some palms can last a century or more. Palm trees go back at least 80 million years to the time of the dinosaurs. Fossils have been found of many varieties from that era. Experts believe that palm trees were among the earliest of all flowering trees.
Here in Southwest Florida we have an opportunity to choose how to create our own island escape right in our own gardens. Did you know that palms improve our air? Planting pygmy date palms are the most effective palms for purifying the air. The good news about palm trees is that generally the roots are not invasive. There are exceptions, like the stately, beautiful royal palm. This palm can break apart a deck, sidewalk or pavement. So be very careful where you plant it.
Let’s talk about small palms specimens that are 20 feet tall or less. Think that’s not small, well, some palms grow to 80 feet or more! Just a few of the small palm trees that we can plant and grow in our gardens are Adonidia merrillii / Christmas tree palms (a smaller type version of the royal palm), Dypsis lutescens / areca palm, Chamaedorea cataractarum / cat palm, Phoenix roebelenii / pygmy date palm and many more. The cat palm is one the few palms that stays very small with dark green foliage with a full appearance. Its growth habit is shrub-like because it suckers (grows baby plants) from its base. Cat palms are easy to grow. They like fertilization three times a year with palm fertilizer like all palm trees. Remember, there is no fertilization from June 1 to Oct. 1 in Cape Coral.
The areca palm is not one of my favorites, however, they are great for inexpensive screening if you are looking for privacy. The natural color of the frond tends to be yellowish and you can expect some brown fronds if you don’t want to maintain (cut off fronds). The Christmas tree palm is one of the most popular palms for home use because of its remarkable appearance and small size. It generally reaches only 15 feet in height. This palm is easy to grow and it is self-cleaning (the old fronds fall off by themselves). One of my favorites!
All of these small palms are great for your entry, center of a circular drive, corner of the house, focal point, borders and shading sunny windows. When you plant your palm trees always allow room for growth especially near your lanai and home entrance.
In the creation of your “tropical paradise” garden you will incorporate many different plants, shrubs and trees for color, texture, balance and rhythm. Most important for me is the magic of palms.
I’d like to leave you with this gardening inspiration from Claude Monet My Garden is my most beautiful masterpiece.
Ann Block is president of the Garden Club of Cape Coral.