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Letter From America

Tamar Myers, our very own correspondent in the U.S.A., makes the first of her quarterly contributions.
Mrs. Tamar Myers, 6303 Hallwood Road, Verona, PA 15147, U.S.A.
Chamaerops No. 1, published online 23-11-2002

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First, allow me to say how much I enjoyed my association with you European Palm Fans. Don't tell the Americans this, but you were by far the most enthusiastic TZC'ers, and the most diligent in submitting articles. If it hadn't been for you, the TZC would have folded years ago. So, thanks for all your hard work, and for all those interesting articles (even with your funny spelling).

Now, on to the Super Sabals in September I was invited down to Texas to view some curious palms. The trip was courtesy of an avid palm enthusiast who, as it turned out, was not so courteous. So although the trip had some major negative points (some palm nuts really are nuts), I got to see a lot of interesting palms.

The focal point of the trip was a population of wild Sabal minor, growing in the hill country of west-central Texas. These palms had been discovered growing in semi-arid uplands, at elevations of up to 2000ft (615m). They are the most westward occurring of the species.

Normally, Sabal minor is found in coastal or swampy situations, or along the banks of slow-moving rivers. It is most definitely a lowland palm, and how this isolated population found its way to the hilly ranch lands is anybody's guess. It may well have been coyotes or birds that carried the seed, but nonetheless it is remarkable that the resulting seedlings survived in this new habitat.

The region gets only about 20" (50cm) of rain a year and although the temperature often tops 100°F in the summer months, it can also drop to -30°F (-35°C) in the winter.

After the big build-up my less than gracious host had given the palms, I was a bit disappointed to see them in person. They were rather runty looking things, growing in a rocky cattle pasture, and barely visible from the road. Still, it was remarkable that they should be there at all.

But what was even more remarkable was their progeny that my host had planted a mere 80 miles (130km) away in the city. These plants were from seed collected from the pasture Sabals and were about 10 years old. These relatively young plants were easily 5 times the size of their parents. While the parent plants amounted to nothing more than a few fan shaped leaves sticking out of the ground about 2ft (60cm) tall, the young plants were easily 12ft (350cm) tall!

These cultivated palms (and they were planted in rich soil and well watered) had at least 5ft (150cm) of fat trunk each, and their leaves probably measured 5ft by 5ft., and of course there was the petiole length as well. They did in fact look like young, vigorous Sabal palmetto (which always grow trunks) except that they lacked the midrib extension into the leaf, and their haphazard leaf arrangement, which pegged them as mere Sabal minors.

So, what is the point, you ask? Why is this pseudo-American babbling on and on about some stupid species that can't even grow in Europe because it needs enough heat to make Satan sweat? Well, I'll tell you. My point is that there are things we can do in cultivation that can greatly alter a palm s appearance and growth rate.

Although some Sabal minor do grow trunks in the wild, this process normally takes 20 years or more. And never do Sabal minors grow that large in nature. So consider the palms you have. Experiment with the amount and type of nourishment you are currently supplying them with. There well may be a number of things you can do to speed up their growth rate, and turn them into those lush symbols of the tropics we all dream about. 'Experimentation' is not a dirty word amongst palm enthusiasts; 'timidity' is.

But whatever you do, don't accept a free trip anywhere unless you've done your homework first. And if you ever get an offer from a certain Texas city (no, not Houston!), check with me first, lest you fancy being squired around town by the Host from Hell.

Till next time...

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