Texas Sabal palms are the only large palm that grows native in Texas.
They have a full canopy that gives lots of shade and provides habitat for birds. Orioles are known to nest under the dry fronds and parrots and parakeets eat the ripe seed. They are equally beautiful in a well-tended home landscape or a neglected highway right-of-way or a parking lot baking with radiant heat .
Sabal Palm Sanctuary in Brownsville boasts of one of the last few croppings of native Sabal forest in the United States.
The Sanctuary sits on a 527-acre tract of land on the Rio Grande in Brownsville and is one of the most uniquely biodiverse habitats in the country, containing one of the last vestige of original Sabal Palm forest in the U.S. The Sanctuary provides breeding habitat for many endangered or high-priority birds and is a critical source of shelter and food for migrating and wintering species
The good news is that naturalized Sabal palms are now found in brushlines and planting beds throughout the Rio Grande Valley and south Texas. The bad news is the transplant survival rate is only between 80 and 90%. This is due partly to the fact that when a Sabal Palm root is cut, that root dies and the palm must re-grow new roots from the base of the tree. The palms energy is now split between keeping the large fronds green and re-growing new roots. The large fronds pose another problem; they provide a large area for the wind to catch and move the entire tree, breaking new feeder roots.
Simmons Oak Farms field grows this palm in three different areas of Cameron County. We want to increase that survival rate so we’ve been testing different ways to handle the Texas Sabal palm. And, although it seems harsh, we have come upon a frond trimming process that takes the risk out of Sabals. We remove all the fronds and leave just the newest 6-10 petioles (or leaf stems).
These are some that we installed in my personal landscape. This was the day they were planted in April of 2017. The trim may seem a bit unusual – until you see how it accomplishes the following:
- Since the palm is not using energy to keep the fronds green, there is more available energy to grow new roots.
- With no canopy, there is very little wind resistance. This keeps a newly palm from moving around and breaking any fresh roots.
- The stiff petioles act as protection for the new, emerging fronds (the growth point), which are very susceptible to breaking.
. . . and here are these same four Texas Sabals – after a long, hot, dry south Texas summer . . . Notice that the petioles are still green! Each palm has flushed with fresh fronds. When the second set of fronds begin to emerge, I will trim off the bare petioles. By next spring, I expect to have a nice, full canopy. And we didn’t have to go back to replace one that didn’t make it . . .
Have you ever heard the saying, “Pretty is as pretty does”? Well, I think a no-fronded sabal is pretty darn pretty!