Fairchild’s tropical garden column

Overlooked and forgotten palms that deserve a second look


Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden

Palm enthusiasts and collectors choose their favorite palm with an array of criteria. Some pick it based on looks alone; the red lipstick palm ( Cyrtostachys renda) is coveted because of its stately red trunk.

Some select based on uniqueness: the gingerbread palm ( Hyphaene thebaica) has dichotomous branching found only in a handful of palms.

And others determine their No. 1 palm based on rarity: Corypha taliera was cut down to extinction because its strange flowering induced folklore that frightened villagers.

Sadly, a large group of great palms is habitually overlooked by enthusiasts because they aren’t striking, unique or rare. These palms are like the “nice guys” — often overlooked, repeatedly dateless but completely deserving of more attention.

Saw palmetto ( Serenoa repens) is perhaps the best example of these forgotten palms. There are so many reasons for this palm to be cherished, but it’s constantly overlooked because of its homely growth habit. The flowers are a great nectar source for bees. In fact, the honey is coveted by beekeepers and honey growers as the best and most delicious. You can even find honey from saw palmetto at some local farmers’ markets.

Florida black bears use the saw palmetto to find food. They injure the trunk of this clumping palm, after which palm weevils invade the trunk. The black bear returns and feasts on the weevils. If this does not work, the bears will settle for the fruit.

Saw palmetto is a great landscape ornamental since it is low maintenance and does well in dry, sunny and cold conditions — unlike most palms.

Pseudophoenix lediniana is like the shy sister — it can be forgotten about since its congeners are more eye-catching. Pseudophoenix sargentii is a Florida native currently threatened by habitat loss, P. ekmanii has a unique swollen belly, and P. vinifera is used for wine. P. lediniana is the best grower and does well in all conditions.

While most palms can’t tolerate our soils, this palm loves our limestone earth. If your property is like most in Miami, it has a thin layer of topsoil over limestone rock. Roots of this palm will break up the stone and soon you will be able to plant other plants in your yard. Not only is it a great grower, it is an even better facilitator.

Acoelorrhaphe wrightii, the Paurotis palm, used to be very popular as a landscape ornamental but lost favor after inappropriate planting left many individuals with severe frizzle top. Although not as popular in the horticulture trade, this palm is very important in the wild. It grows in seasonally flooded parts of the Everglades. By branching at the base, the Paurotis palm forms clumps. During periods of heavy flooding, these clumps are a place of refuge for Everglades critters. With huge ecological importance, it is quite surprising that relatively little is known about this palm, making it a forgotten palm indeed.

This palm would be great along your canal or pond. It can handle sun or shade as long as its feet are wet, at least seasonally.

These palms are treated as runts of the litter but they deserve more attention than they receive. Each of these palms would make an excellent addition to your palm collection. While not the homecoming kings of the palm world, they’d still make an excellent date to the dance.

Sara Edelman is the palm and cycad manager at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden.

Read more Home & Garden stories from the Miami Herald

 <span class="cutline_leadin">On demand: </span>Most tankless water heaters come on only when they’re in use.

    Ask a plumber

    Heating water can be a ‘tankless’ job

    The pros and cons of installing a tankless water heater.

At just 10 inches deep, the Mill console table from CB2 is perfect for decorating an empty hallway ($299).


    For small spaces, console tables are ideal

    Decorating a small space can be like packing for a weekend trip. There’s room for only the essentials, so every piece should be useful, versatile and worth its weight. If space is a commodity, the console table is one of the most valuable pieces on the market.

This sleek, mid-century Telechron clock is a handsome collectible.


    Telechron products known for style, design

    Q: I grew up in the 1960s and ’70s with this Lucite clock on a table in my parents’ bedroom. I recently found it in a storage unit of their things and am wondering how old it is, and the approximate value. It still works and has great sentimental value and now has a place of honor on my bedside table. Any information you can provide would be appreciated.

Miami Herald

Join the

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category