Almost every front yard in Valencia Reserve is decorated with clumps of two to three Phoenix roebelenii. Phoenix is the Greek name for the date palm. Roebelenii honors Carl Roebelen (1855-1927), a German who hunted orchids in southeast Asia where Phoenix roebelenii is native. You will often hear this palm called by one of its common names: Pygmy Date Palm or Robellini. The small stature of this palm species makes it highly valuable for home landscaping.
The feathery leaves are lovely but, as most of us gardeners can attest, the lower leaflets of the leaves have evolved into long sharp spines, to prevent mammals from eating the foliage. Some landscapers trim many of the lower leaves, leaving the palm with a “feather-duster” appearance and exposing the gorgeous dark brown trunk. The University of Florida IFAS Extension frowns on the feather–duster look because palms do rely on their leaves for minerals and to photosynthesize the sugars they need to grow.
Phoenix roebellinii (Pygmy Date Palm) is a close relative of Phoenix dactylifera (Date Palm), as you can tell by noticing that they are both in the genus Phoenix. Unfortunately, the fruits of the Pygmy, while technically edible, are quite small and dry compared to the luscious fruits of a Date Palm, which yields grocery store quality dates. Phoenix plants are either male or female and only the females will bear the dates. This was a costly problem on date plantations because half of the plants (the males) did not yield dates, although they still required water and maintenance! Modern agriculture techniques have circumvented this issue by identifying the genetic sex of seedling date palms, so that one male can be planted to pollinate every 40-50 females. We have thousands of roebellenis in VR, so there is no lack of both sexes for pollination to occur via the wind.
A Phoenix roebelenii trunk is a useful place to mount an orchid, a fern, or a bromeliad because the trunk has protruding old leaf stem bases covered with fibers where these plants can happily sit and receive water and sun and shade. On your next walk around the neighborhood, check out all the beautiful plants hanging on Phoenix roebelenii trunks!
Click on the word "Slideshow" in the upper right hand corner of this blog to see many South Florida palms
Katherine Wagner-Reiss has her botany Certificate from the New York Botanical Garden, where she is a volunteer tour guide.