Toby paints for us a 'palm portrait' of a little-known
and even less-used palm, Thrinax morrisii. Deserving of much wider
Tobias Spanner, Tizianstrasse 44, 80638 Munich, Germany
Chamaerops No.25 Winter 1996/97
Thrinax morrisii, at home on the Keys
A year or two ago, Martin Gibbons and I were visiting
our friend and longtime Palm Society member Gerry McKiness in Florida.
After touring the many local nurseries in southern Florida, we wanted
to see some palms in native habitat and Gerry suggested a day trip
down to the Florida Keys. High on our list of things to see was
Pseudophoenix sargentii, the Buccaneer palm, a strange and very
slow growing, pinnate palm with waxy leaves and a green-grey, bottle-shaped
trunk. Due to illegal poaching, this palm has become nearly extinct
in Florida and Gerry thought the best way to get to some he remembered
seeing would be by boat. The windy weather however did not permit
us to go and it would have been impossible to find Pseudophoenix
from the landward side in just one day, so we had to settle for
Setting out from Homestead by car, we soon reached
Key Largo, and continued motoring south down the long and narrow
peninsular. We were looking for Thrinax radiata, and while we were
driving up and down the road Gerry was leaning out of the window
saying, 'I know they were here somewhere'. He soon found a spot
where they were growing in large numbers in quite dense, low forest
and bushland, almost invisible from the road. They were nice but
not terribly exciting palms however, and after spending a while
there, we continued down south to Big Pine Key, where we turned
off onto a small gravel road and soon surrounded by palms.
We saw Serenoa repens, common everywhere in Florida,
growing alongside dainty and fragile-looking Coccothrinax argentata
arid large. beautiful Thrinax morrisii, the Brittle Thatch or Peaberry
Palm. Thrinax morrisii and T. radiata are the only two out of this
small Caribbean genus of 7 species native to Florida but both are
common elsewhere in the Caribbean. T. morrisii ranges fro western
Cuba over the Florida Keys and Bahamas to Puerto Rico, the Virgin
Islands, Anguilla and Barbuda. It is not known from Hispaniola,
but an isolated population grows on Navassa Island west of Haiti.
It generally inhabits dry. deciduous woodland or open, coastal regions,
usually at low elevations and regularly on limestone soil, dry,
open pine woodland near sea level on coral rock in our case in the
Thrinax morrisii is of medium size and grows slowly
to a maximum of about 10m tall with a solitary, slender grey trunk,
5 - 35cm in diameter which is topped by a large, spherical crown
consisting of about 20 leaves. In its upper part, just below the
crown, the trunk is wrapped in fine, fibrous leafsheaths which are
eventually deciduous. The petiole is narrow, 30-90cm long but occasionally
much longer, arching to carry quite a large leafblade 55 to 75cm
long or more, with 3060 mostly stiff and rather wide segments which
are bright green above. A particularly intriguing feature is the
underside of the blade which is usually quite strongly silvery-grey-waxy,
a characteristic it shares only with the much larger Thrinax excelsa
from Jamaica. The individual leafsegments are arranged at various
angles to the petiole, giving the blade a twisted appearance and
showing off the contrast in colour between its upper and lower sides.
The inflorescences arch out beyond the leaves and
carry insignificant, small white flowers and, eventually, very small,
white fruits, only a few millimetres in diameter. Thrinax is hermaphroditic
(the flowers have both male and female organs) and accordingly.
a single tree can produce viable fruits. As a genus, Thrinax is
closely related to Zombia, a clustering palm which is easily distinguished
by its spiny leafsheath fibres, and Coccothrinax, both native to
the Caribbean. It is often confused with Coccothrinax but can be
easily identified by its split petiole bases, white fruits (purple
to black in Coccothrinax) and smooth seeds (grooved in Coccothrinax).
In cultivation, Thrinax morrisii is by no means common
and will probably never become a commercial subject. It is easily
propagated by seed which germinates after a few weeks but seedlings
are very small initially and grow rather slowly. Nevertheless, it
is a beautiful and exceedingly robust plant, well worth growing
as an ornamental in warm temperate to tropical climates and a particularly
good choice for seaside plantings. It is successful in any area
with sufficiently warm summers and mild winters and will resist
brief frosts down to -5ūC undamaged, making it hardier than any
other species in the genus and most of its close relatives.
It can grow in a wide range of soil types as long
as they are well drained, tolerating even very poor and saline or
highly alkaline soils, arid stands lip well to coastal conditions
with high winds, salt spray and drought. When planting. choose a
place in full sun with buoyant air movement for best results. All
you need do now is wait. For those not blessed with a suitable climate,
it will also, like many plants from coastal areas, make a very good
house plant for a brightly lit spot, tolerant of dry air, temperature
fluctuations and a considerable amount of neglect, and is hardly
ever bothered by pests.
27-09-21 - 23:49GMT
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of Cultivated Palms
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by Mario Stähler
This german book tells you all about how to cultivate your palms in Central Europe. more...