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Palms Find Homes In Mississippi Landscapes
By Norman Winter
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center
The winter is not normally the time to talk about palms, but I want to make a point because Mother Nature has endowed our state with a palm that can take temperatures well below zero. The palm is known botanically as sabal minor and is called shrub palmetto.
North of Jackson on the Natchez Trace around mile marker 126 you may notice low wilderness areas where these palms are native. They can be found in several Mississippi counties.
When you walk around among these palms, you get the feeling that a triceratops or stegosaurus might just come roaming around the corner. These palms communicate lush, tropical and exotic feelings to those who pass by them. This is precisely what they do for the landscape. There are so many uses for them around the home it is a wonder they are not more readily available.
This palm is perfect around a swimming pool or water feature. It excels flanking each side of a home's front entrance. They look handsome as understory plants to large trees like oaks or bald cypress. For those who are developing the look of a dry creek bed or even one that regularly has water, the shrub palmetto looks at home in bold clumps grown adjacent to the stream.
If you have loved the look of bananas but don't like the look when they are gone, plant them behind a group of shrub palmettos.
The shrub palmetto practically never really develops a trunk, staying more shrub-like. On rare occasions you hear of someone finding one as old as dirt that has attained some height and a trunk-like appearance.
Many of you have probably tried to dig some from the wild, which I might add is all right if you own the land. Please do not collect them illegally from the Natchez Trace. We don't want any of our gardeners behind bars.
If you have ever tried to dig one, then you most likely are aware that their roots go half way to China. Only the smallest can be dug with a good success rate.
While filming a recent Southern Gardening TV segment on these palms, I noticed many had long fruiting clusters with blue-black fruit. These seeds can be harvested for planting.
For the best rate of germination, remove the pulp from the seeds and allow them to dry for a couple of days. Then place the seeds in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
Keep the seeds in the refrigerator for about one month, then plant them in a moist seedbed. This cold treatment, called stratification, improves germination. Unstratified seeds germinate more sporadically and will take at least two to three months.
If all this germinating and transplanting sounds a little too horticultural for you, there is good news. Many more garden centers are stocking them and commercial landscapers are using them in droves. This means the demand is increasing and supply is up. I was at a garden center in Jackson that had a great supply of shrub palmettos showing good expanding fans.
The large fan-like leaves can reach five to eight feet long, so space plants accordingly in the landscape. You may want to place them 6 feet apart.
Yes Virginia, there is a palm we can all grow in Mississippi; it is called the shrub palmetto.