Bying palms in garden centres, we often tend
to forget thier roots, so to speak. Here we have the chance to see
one of the hardiest palms in the wild. by Tony Cerbone, Highgate ln Dallas, Texas,
USA Chamaerops No.33 Winter 1998/99, published
A blue Norther was rolling in and sleet was forecast.
That night it was supposed to go below freezing with temperatures
in the 20s F/ -6°C. I had taken the train because Dallas is
one place you don't want to be driving around in when icy conditions
are predicted. We were meeting for lunch at the Dallas World Aquarium
to celebrate a friend's recent business success with his internet
company. Inside the Aquarium, the warm humid air of the enclosed
3-story rainforest was very inviting. The live Toucans, monkeys
and lush palms transported one to a South American jungle. A friend
commented on how nice it would be to live in an area with such lush
palms. I told him that he did already.
To prove it, the following weekend when the temperatures
had gone back up into the 70s F/ 22°C, we drove 15 minutes south
of Downtown Dallas, to an area of gravel pits and swamps. What you
first see as you approach the area is the huge Southside Wastewater
Treatment Plant, where the city of Dallas treats more than 100 tons
of sludge every day. As you get closer, you see trucks hauling away
gravel and sand from the nearby pits. The abandoned pits have filled
with water and form a series of ponds and small lakes that have
now become part of the Alligator and Palmetto slough preserve, and
help regenerate the swamp. Overhead you can see red tailed hawks,
while at your feet the tracks of raccoon and coyote. Blue herons
and White egrets can be seen fishing along the banks.
As you enter the swamp, tall trees predominate.
Pecan, Elm, Willow, Oak, and Bois d'arc trees make up the majority
of the types of trees you can find there. The swamp therefore is
a series of small streams and flooded woodlands. As you walk along
the muddy banks you can see large fresh water mussels shell. Most
of the plant life is deciduous but it isn't long before you see
some green vegetation. The 3-5 feet wide leaves of Sabal minor,
or Texas palmetto stand out against the bare ground. All around
are seedlings that appear to be blades of grass. Throughout this
immediate area are scattered groupings of 10-20 plants, about 8
feet tall, with no trunk.
After pushing on in the heavy mud, avoiding the alligators, rattlesnakes
and cottonmouths, you come across a ridge. From the top of this
ridge is an amazing sight. A huge forest of palms! Lush green palm
fronds span this area with the average height being about 8 feet
tall, and some specimens about 12 feet. This is the site one envisions
when thinking of South Florida, the Amazon or some other frost free
place, but certainly not the Big D.
The palms themselves are almost always found growing
in the muddy black clay not the nearby sandy loam. They are not
in standing water, but on ridges, that at times can be flooded.
Always growing in the shade, not in open sun. My observation is
that the bare trees in winter allow the strong southern sun (32°
latitude) to warm the palms. Also they act as a windbreak to the
cold Northers blowing off the prairie. In the summer, their thick
leafy canopy reduces the scorching desert-like temperatures. This
all combines to create a microclimate that has allowed the palms