Sabal minor - Hardy Palms in Texas

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The palms must also be very cold hardy since they survived the 1983 winter when the Dallas area had an extended record breaking cold period where the temperatures didn't go above freezing for 12 days. The low temperature at this time was about 5°F. According to Mary Phinney an archeologist and administrator for the Dallas County's park and open space program, this palmetto swamp with 282 protected acres, is part of a 600 acre swamp that researchers have estimated goes back anywhere from 10,000 to 100,000 years. So, palms have been in Dallas a long time, and should be used in local gardens more often. Nandinas and hollies are great, but next time why not use a palm.. After all they are a native plant and have evolved to take our cold winters and hot summers. Plus, the seeds germinate very easily, and overall they are very trouble free.

It is amazing that this beautiful palm forest, which has been growing here for thousands of years, survived the City of Dallas' rapid urbanization. It seems that Mary Whitlow, whose father owned a sand and gravel company, and the land the swamp sits on, persuaded her Dad not to excavate the area containing the palmettos. Mr. Whitlow then offered this undeveloped land to the county and that is how the park was created in 1993.

The area also provides a home to many different types of wildlife. Alligators are very common here, with 27 breeding pairs last counted. Most are in the 3-4 feet long range but one is estimated to be between 10-12 feet long. Its footprint is measured at 8 inches. Their nests can often be seen in the spring. Water moccasins, rattlesnakes, poison ivy and fire ants, are very common throughout and discourage unsupervised visits. Cougars or Pumas, Bob cats, 18 species of turtles, 3 species of mussels, beavers, mink, Alligator gar, (type of fish) are some of the other denizens. This is not like the swamps of East Texas with their bald cypress and Spanish moss. None of these plants can be found here. It is thought that the hotter and drier air in the summer prevents those epiphytes from succeeding here. What does thrive, are the beautiful groves of palms. These remnant palm woodlands, are the farthest north and west of that plant community in this part of the United States.

About 100 miles north of here there are groves in S. E. Oklahoma that are furthest North, but also East. Today, of the 282 acres owned by the county, 120 acres is original swamp. The rest act as a protective zone to keep the swamp viable. Dallas' urban palm forest remains unknown to most residents of the Metroplex, but is now protected from further city growth. The last step in conserving this area is controlling poachers. It seems that most of the palms that were visible from the roadside have disappeared over the years. One possible explanation is that people are digging up these readily available plants for home use. The largest groves are deep in the swamp and require wading through alligator and poisonous snake infested areas. I guess in this area we can just let the residents protect themselves.

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