This Week's Podcast: A Rebroadcast of Reading Palms
Click on the small black arrow on the bar to listen, or the MP3 to download the show:You could count what I know about palms on one hand. As Scott Zona and the co-authors of the second edition of The Encyclopedia of Cultivated Palms points out -- even people who do not know much about plants, recognize palms. Scott is the Conservatory & Greenhouse Curator at Florida International University. He has explored plants in Florida, California, Mexico, Central America, Chile, Indonesia, and Madagascar and he just returned from the Biennial Meeting of the International Palm Society in Thailand.
There are some 2500 species, and nearly 1,000 are featured in the book. There are palms that are a foot tall, and others that grow to a towering 150 feet. Palms are recognized by their split leaves – like the fingers of a hand – and by the leaf sheathes or scars when the old leaves have fallen off, or have been trimmed by overzealous landscapers.
Palms are monocots: when seed from these flowering plants germinate, they produce a single seed leaf. That’s easy to picture if you imagine a blade of grass emerging from its seed. Palms are distantly related to grasses, but they are among the few monocots with woody tissues, that is, they can become trees. Palms grow vertically, and if there is an attempt to lower their height by pruning the new growth away, the palm will die.
Scott tells us more about palms including a few we can grow indoors in cold climates, and more surprisingly, outdoors. One such hardy palm is the Sabal minor or palmetto, which is the symbol of South Carolina. But there are more palms that might be suitable for gardens in USDA Zone 6, including Nannorrhops ritchienana, above, which is hardy to at least 0 degrees F.