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Fairchild’s tropical garden column: Caring for water-loving palms

Paurotis palm grows in large clumps in the marshes of the Everglades. This palm is much happier in the water so don’t leave yours high and dry.
Paurotis palm grows in large clumps in the marshes of the Everglades. This palm is much happier in the water so don’t leave yours high and dry. Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden

For palm lovers, summer in Miami is heaven on earth. Humid days and afternoon rain showers encourage healthy growth. But as the cooler weather rolls in, it is almost impossible to ignore the fact that summer is over.

I can hear your mother telling you it’s time to get out of the pool. But you aren’t ready. Palms feel the same sadness that we do as summer warmth disappears. They live for its long, warm, humid days. Cooler weather slows their growth and stifles their mood.

Palms despise the cold so much that some have figured out how to act like it’s summer year round. When they hear their mother telling them to get out of the pool, they resist. These palms grow in the water. In fact, the water protects them from cold weather injury.

Instead of escaping to the Bahamas, plant a summer-loving palm. Even if your mood is stifled by the cooler weather, their stubbornness in pretending winter doesn’t exist will lift your spirits.

Paurotis palm (Acoelorrhaphe wrightii) is a Florida native that grows in the seasonal marshes of the Everglades. Through rhizomatous branching, it creates colonies with an empty center. The empty center is higher than the water level and often becomes habitat for other plant and animal species.

Paurotis palm is planted frequently in the landscape but often shows signs of stress in the leaves. The newest leaves become frizzled because the palm is planted in dry soil. Plant a paurotis palm along the perimeter of a pond. You’ll have a gorgeous water-loving clump that will make all your neighbors palm-leaf green with envy.

If you want a native palm but aren’t sold on the clumping nature of paurotis, a royal palm (Roystonea regia) is for you. Like paurotis, these palms also suffer occasionally from dryness. Often, the crown is weakened from dehydration and falls off.

After seeing so many royals planted along the roadside it may come as a shock that it grows in the swamps. If you plant a royal palm in a wet spot, be prepared for extreme growth. At first, your neighbors and palm-loving friends may think it strange, but after they see your palm’s incredible growth, they will follow suit. Plant this palm where it wants to grow and watch it shoot up.

Maybe you want to venture outside of the native palm realm and cultivate a more difficult palm. The lipstick palm (Cyrtostachys renda) is waiting for you to let her live summer year round. These palms are very cold sensitive and are labeled as “difficult.”

However, the trick is in the water. These palms thrive when their feet are wet. Simply plant them in a pond and the cold weather doesn’t affect them quite as much. Be prepared, they still may suffer from winter chills but don’t force them out of the pool.

The challenge of growing the lipstick palm may be too much. Instead, try the King Alexander palm (Archontophoenix alexandrae). These water-loving palms grow well in all conditions. They are a little cold sensitive, but similar to the lipstick palm, the water protects them from damage.

In the wild, these palms grow along river banks in Australia. When they are planted in dry areas in the landscape, their cold sensitivity increases. Don’t force this palm to suffer through the winter. Instead, give this palm some water and enjoy its tropical green crown of leaves.

Water-loving palms are living the dream by living the summer lifestyle year round. Maybe we can steal a little of their summer spirit by planting them in our yards.

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