Many Floridians say “eureka” palm when they mean to say “areca” palm. “Eureka” is, of course, the exclamation on the discovery of gold! But where did “areca” come from? The story goes that a gardener saw the plant family name “Arecaceae” on a label and shortened it to “areca.” Since all palms are in the plant family Arecaceae, not just this one, there is humor in the origin of the name, if you appreciate botanical jokes!
Another common name for this palm is butterfly palm: the leaves arch like butterflies. Yet another common name is yellow bamboo palm: the stems are reminiscent of bamboo. The scientific name is Dypsis lutescens. Lutescens means yellow, and if you look at these palms, many parts are yellow or yellow-green including the stems, the leaves (see photo insert), the flowers and the fruits.
The VR HOA Rules and Regulations do not allow these palms to be used as hedges around individual homes: “… the installation of Areca hedges upon a LOT shall not be permitted.” They are used as hedges along some canals, where they make fabulous screens because of their multiple stems and tolerance of shearing: note the hedge along the canal seen from Beverly Glen Road. A few homes in VR do have small clumps of areca palms that are maintained as manicured specimens, rather than as hedges.
Areca palms can live for 50 years. They grow in dense shade to full sun, growing fuller in the sun. The roots stay put in small hurricanes, although the leaves may be torn. Negative qualities include susceptibility to spiraling whitefly and ganoderma (a fungus) and a “natural” look with yellowing and browning leaves requiring frequent trimming for a neat appearance.
Areca palms are naturalized in South Florida, meaning that they are established in Florida despite their origin from a foreign place, in this case Madagascar. Whether you call them “eureka palm,” “areca palm,” or “Dypsis lutescens,” they are easy to identify: look for a 15-foot -high cluster or hedge of feathery palms with butterfly leaves and bamboo stems. Pictured is a lovely group just outside the gate by the VR lap pool.
Labeled photos of this and many other South Florida palms can be found as a slideshow
on this blog.
As you exit the front doors of the Valencia Reserve clubhouse, you will be facing one of the few lady palms in our community; look for a short multi-stemmed palm with leaves that resemble segmented fans. She enjoys the shade that the clubhouse portico provides, and she is a focal point, especially at night when the spotlight shines on her.
Palms are called “palms” because their leaves can resemble a human palm; this particular palm leaf has a dainty appearance, leading to the common name of lady palm. Her Latinized name is Rhapis excelsa: Rhapis meaning needle, in reference to the needle-like leaf segments and excelsa meaning tall; it is a mystery why she was named excelsa when she seldom grows over eight feet.
Rhapis excelsa is no longer found growing in the wild; all of those growing in their native China are cultivated. In the 17th century, they were collected by the Japanese to decorate Tokugawa shogunate palaces. In the 18th century they became popular in European conservatories. Later, they were imported to America where their low light and humidity requirements make them easy-to-care-for plants.
You can read more about palms, including lady palms, in what I consider the best overall gardening book for South Florida: Pamela Crawford’s Easy Gardens for South Florida 2nd edition. Armed with a Master’s Degree in Landscape Architecture, Crawford tested all of the plants in her Lake Worth trial gardens. Crawford gives the lady palm a blue ribbon, her highest honor. Full of color photos and practical growing advice, the book is conveniently divided into the categories of annuals, groundcovers, shrubs, vines, trees and palms. This paperback is available through the Palm Beach Library system.
Throughout the world, you will see lady palms inside homes, offices, airports and malls. In South Florida we are lucky enough to be able to grow them outdoors, so this is a great palm to keep in mind when you need a statement plant for a shady spot; whether you grow them as a single specimen, a hedge or a container plant, you can enjoy a palm that delighted shoguns!
KENTUCKY COFFEE TREE
Photo taken by Katherine Wagner-Reiss at the New York Botanical Garden
I love plants with a wow factor, and Kigelia africana (sausage tree) fits the bill, both with its heavy sausage-like fruits and with its dramatic maroon flowers. Kigelia is a Latinized version of the Mozambican name for the tree and africana describes its native range.
The flowers open in the evening and usually the petals and stamens fall off as a unit on the next day. In its native Africa, nocturnal pollinators include bats and birds and hawk moths, attracted by the large quantities of nectar— up to one teaspoon per flower. An African tree in the wild can produce up to 225 fruits each season; in Florida, we have a dearth of appropriate pollinators and many fewer “sausages” are produced. Since there are no nectar-feeding bats in South Florida, it has been suggested that both the native Red-bellied Woodpecker and the introduced Spot- breasted Oriole may pollinate the sausage tree as they look for insects attracted by the nectar. Of course, deliberate hand-pollination by humans is also possible.
While the unripe fruit is poisonous, this tree does supply human food: ripe fruit to bake, seeds to roast, and nutritious leaves to dry. In Africa, ripe fruit is eaten by elephants, baboons, bush pigs, giraffes, hippos and monkeys, plus fresh leaves are used as livestock forage.
The top photo of the fruit was taken at Mounts Botanical Garden in West Palm Beach, FL. The photo of the flowers was taken at Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens in Delray Beach, FL. I have also seen a sausage tree at Unbelievable Acres Botanic Garden in West Palm Beach, FL.
Coconut palms are scattered throughout Valencia Reserve. Look for a crown of exceptionally long feather-like leaves atop a thin curvy trunk; clusters of coconuts clinch the ID.
The coconut palm produces coconuts all year round, up to seventy-five coconuts per year! Coconuts have a dense green husk hiding the giant brown coconut seed inside; it is the de-husked brown seed that you find for sale at the grocery store. The coconut seed is the second largest seed in the world. The title of largest seed goes to the “double-coconut,” the seed of a different palm.
The scientific name is Cocos nucifera. Cocos means grimace; you can see the
grimace if you look at the three pores that resemble a face on the coconut seed (see photo insert). A seedling will emerge from the pore that settles nearest to ideal growing conditions. Nucifera means “nut-bearing,” although coconuts are not nuts in the true sense.
Humans make good use of Cocos nucifera: the central coconut water is
sterile and was used as a plasma substitute for blood transfusions in WW2; coconut water is now a popular health food drink. Coconut milk and coconut oil are both made from processing the white coconut meat, and the white coconut meat itself is used for confections such as macaroons. Beware of eating coconuts that you find fallen on the ground because pesticides applied to the palm can contaminate the coconut.
While the coconut palm is an iconic image associated with Florida, it is not native to Florida. Scientists have a hard time telling where the coconut palm originated because coconuts have both floated and been carried by human traders all over the world!
Coconut palms, with their wavy trunks and waving fronds, lend an informal tropical feel to the garden. They should not be planted in areas where people routinely sit or walk, as a falling coconut is a dangerous missile; thus, coconuts in residential communities need to be removed before hurricane season. Despite the fact that it is susceptible to lethal yellowing and spiraling whitefly, Cocos nucifera is widely grown because it is tough, self- pruning, and graceful.
Katherine Wagner-Reiss has her botany Certificate from the New York Botanical Garden, where she is a volunteer tour guide.