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Written by Jeff Shimonski, BT Contributor   
September 2019

With a little planning, you’ll have a healthy, diverse landscape

I Pix_YourGarden_9-19rarely see unusual plants and trees on residential properties anymore. New builds, of course, almost never have the space to plant anything beyond than what the mitigation requires to replace lost canopy due to tree removal to build the big houses.

Pretty much the only time I come across interesting or uncommon species is when I inspect an older home that’s about to be demolished. You can discover the original homeowner’s interests -- maybe exotic fruit trees or some species that was uncommon here decades ago when the winters were colder and the owner really had to nurture those plants and trees to survive the cold and frost.

My small home landscape has well over a hundred species of plants growing in it, and some of them are really distinctive. Every time I come home and pull into my driveway, I’m greeted with the distichous canopies and attractively textured trunks of Wallichia disticha.

Distichous in the plant world means that the leaves are arranged on opposite sides of the trunk, on a single plane. As you can see in the photo that accompanies this article, the leaves, or fronds, are held in a single plane.

In past columns, I’ve written about distichous bromeliads and, of course, the traveller’s tree, Ravenala madagascariensis, with its very recognizable foliar arrangement. Folklore has it that the flat plane of the foliage is always arranged so the ends of the leaves indicate east and west.

That’s not true, not with traveller’s trees and definitely not with the Wallichia disticha. I have several of these palms, and they definitely have not coordinated their foliage.

The photo with this article is small, but if you look closely, there’s another trunk to the left of the palm. This is the largest of my Wallichia, and has just finished blooming. All the palms were planted at the same time, but they’re all different sizes now, which is most likely due to access to water and sunlight. When the canopies have access to sunlight, they grow faster.

This palm species is monoecious, meaning that it blooms once and then dies. In bright sunlight, they live 20 to 25 years. The palm to the left started blooming just before Hurricane Irma, sending out an attractive copper-colored bloom spike, or inflorescence. A total of three inflorescences were produced, and now the palm is dead and will be removed. An interesting characteristic regarding the inflorescences on this palm species is that they’re either all male flowers or all female flowers. What a great way to ensure out-crossing and to maintain genetic diversity.

There are quite a few species of palms that are monoecious and single-trunked like the Wallichia disticha; others have multiple trunks, as in the case of various Arenga or Caryota, or even other species of Wallichia.

This palm grows to about 30 feet in height. As it produces inflorescences, the fronds begin to die off. The palm puts all of its stored energy into reproduction. At this point, the fronds can be cut off, leaving the trunk more compact and easier to remove.

Like this Wallichia, certain species of palms typically grow a thick fiber on the trunk. Once the trunk is cut down, I remove the fiber and use it as a growing medium for orchids, bromeliads, and other epiphytic species.

I also section the trunk of any palm species that I cut down into manageable pieces, about two or three feet in length, so I can move them around, to place against the base of specimen aroids or large ferns.

The aroid roots will cover the decomposing trunks, taking available nutrients and also using the trunks to stay dry, as they don’t like to remain wet and won’t grow too deep into the soil. I have several Anthurium species thriving in my garden that were started with “nurse logs.”

At Parrot Jungle and Jungle Island, I used palm trunks and smaller tree trunks to hold up bird’s nest ferns when they were planted into the garden. Since these plants are epiphytes and grow high above the ground, they won’t grow well when planted directly into the soil. I would take the plants out of their pots, sit the root ball directly on the ground, and place the logs around the root ball and underneath the foliage to hold up the plant. Any large spaces between the logs I would fill with heavy mulch.

These plants grew quite large, and I never had to worry about overwatering or fungal issues.

This is the way to sustainable horticulture: proper plant species selection. I have never fertilized anything in my garden. 

Jeff Shimonski is an ISA-certified arborist, municipal specialist, retired director of horticulture at Parrot Jungle and Jungle Island, and principal of Tropical Designs of Florida. Contact him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

 

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