Last summer was a sit, wait and worry, summer. The previous winter of ‘16-‘17 was a hard one here. Because my Butia capitata had been sailing through its previous nine winters, in this location, without damage, I assumed it would be OK this time, but it wasn’t. Our 12” snowfall weighted the fronds down splaying it open and no doubt allowing moisture, ice etc. to penetrate down into the trunk to the meristem, the critical tissue from which all growth in the plant begins. Last summer not one new frond emerged, an indicator that the meristem was damaged or killed. The good thing was that there was no sign of rot. The new ‘spear’ could not be pulled free….The same winter killed my Trachycarpus martianus darkening and shattering much of the fronds’ cell walls and structure in a way typical of many freeze damaged plants. Its center spear, the newly emerging fronds, pulled free. My Butia spent last summer in a kind of limbo. This last winter was much more mild. Now, finally, with the heat settling in around us, those old spears are growing again, their leaflets opening wide, while their long rachis/stems, fully extend and arch! New spears are forming still pressed tightly against the most vertical and longest of these whose leaflets you can see below just beginning to fan open. This is slower growing than the Trachys, working on opening its third frond of the year! Typically my Trachycarpus fortuneii form 15-20 fronds in a year. I’m wondering now how this lost year of growth will effect the Butia’s trunk diameter. Because of how Palms as monocots grow, I suspect that it will result in a narrowing of its ‘waist’, with a swelling back to normal above when more normal winters prevail. Continue reading
My friend Steve has urged me to periodically write about my experiences in the Denial Zone…so here’s a little something: We all know you can only go so far with the whole tropical thing in Portland if you’re not going to invest in a greenhouse. Those of us who try to mimic the tropical look realize that we have to seek out the temperate and a few sub-tropicals that give us that ‘feel’. Bold foliages are key. Architectural plants, and just as important strong foliage contrast. This is not the place for subtlety. Strappy, fuzzy, split and dissected, compound pinnate and palmate, glossy, drip tipped, bold variegation and wild patterns…over the years observant nurseryman and plant hunters have brought us a smorgasbord of unusually foliaged plants. Plant breeders have pushed the limits crossing hardy species in ways that mimic their tropical cousins, I’m thinking Hibiscus here. But still there are certain plants, certain forms and silhouettes, that are hard to replace.
Palms are one of these. Many of us grow various palmate forms like genus Trachycarpus, T. fortunei, most commonly, while others have used T. wagnerianus, T. takil and T. princeps. There are many others but of unproven hardiness. Another form of Palm are those with costapalmate fronds, of these I have a Sabal minor doing fine at home slowly getting bigger in the ground for the last four years, (It’s more than ten years old. I’m of the age now where I just say something is ten years old because it’s easier than checking. It may actually be 12-15.) and a Sabal x ‘Birmingham’ I have high hopes for probably destined for a few more years in the pot before I try it out in the ground. (The genus Sabal includes the Palmetto Palm native to the coastal southeastern US. They tend to be slower growing than Trachys, preferring more heat, often with larger more deeply segmented fronds. For those of you who don’t know, costapalmate are intermediate between palmate and pinnate. The stem extends into the frond where the segments separate and fan out. This extension may be slight as it is in Sabal minor. Instead of having the segments radiating evenly from one point at the base, the ‘base’ is slightly elongated stretching it as if it were briefly considering being pinnate. A casual look might leave the observer thinking that something is slightly off with what appears to be a palmate leaf.) Perhaps others will be found growing in the extremes of their home ranges that can take zn7 and 8 consistently with smiles. I planted the aforementioned Trachys over the last several years in and near Waterfront Park’s bowl. (Actually, the T. princeps is new this spring. Cross your fingers.) They are consistent and durable performers…even through last winter.