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Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Tuesday - July 21, 2009

From: Alexandria , VA
Region: Mid-Atlantic
Topic: Diseases and Disorders
Title: Palm plant with lower inches browning in Alexandria VA
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

Palm plant 10 years old, about 5' tall, single trunk approximately 1" diameter, reddish green leaves about 12 to 14 inches long, original owner. All leaves on the lower 2 inches of plant leaves are brown, no others above are brown?

ANSWER:

You didn't say which palm you have, and there are hundreds of different species with the name "palm." We found 7 species in our Native Plant Database that are native to North America, but none of them is native to Virginia, as it is just a little too far north to be hospitable to the sub-tropical palm. One, Sabal palmetto (cabbage palmetto) comes the closest to Virginia, being native to North and South Carolina. We are going to use that as an example, and do some research to see what causes palm leaves to turn brown. We will also give you the names and pictures of the palms native to North America in our Native Plant Database. We will not have any non-native palms to show you, as the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is dedicated to the use, care and propagation of plants native not only to North America but to the area in which the plant is being grown. 

Rhapidophyllum hystrix (needle palm)

Roystonea elata (Florida royal palm)

Sabal mexicana (Rio Grande palmetto)

Sabal minor (dwarf palmetto)

Sabal palmetto (cabbage palmetto) - northernmost palm in North America, native as near as North Carolina

Serenoa repens (saw palmetto)

Washingtonia filifera (California fan palm)

From the Conditions Comments page in our Native Plant Database on Sabal palmetto (cabbage palmetto) we excerpted this information:

"Conditions Comments: Cabbage palm is not known to occur naturally over 75 miles from the coast. It is immune to salt spray. Old leaves brown and hang from the base of the crown. Unless they are trimmed away, this creates great habitat for desirable birds and undesirable rodents. The decision to trim or not to trim is a matter of preference. The tree does fine either way. A delicacy known as swamp cabbage is produced from the bud or embryonic leaves of the tree, thus the common name. Removing the bud kills the palm so this practice is discouraged. Trunk wounds also seriously harm or kill the tree."  Dead leaves may persist on the trunk, hanging from the crown to form a "skirt". In urban situations it is recommended that these be removed, as they create shelter for rats and other undesirable creatures.

If none of this helps, try the book from University of Florida Press Ornamental Palm Horticulture  by Timothy K. Broschat and Alan W. Meerow. Find some Q&A from this book that might apply to your situation.

 

From the Image Gallery


Needle palm
Rhapidophyllum hystrix

Texas palm
Sabal mexicana

Dwarf palmetto
Sabal minor

Cabbage palmetto
Sabal palmetto

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