A. There are several varieties of palm trees that thrive in our neo-tropical climate. It is important to note that in Zone 9 the average annual minimum temperature is between 20 and 30 degrees Fahrenheit. For this reason, consideration should be given to the cold tolerance of a palm tree. Most of the new commercial and entertainment developments in Galveston County are incorporating large numbers of palm trees in their landscapes. However, a new resident to the area could easily make a mistake by duplicating some of the palm trees that are being commercially installed. Local nurseries and garden centers are stocking lush, exotic species seen in pamphlets of tropical resort destinations, many of which are wholly inappropriate for our climate. A general rule for hardy palm selection is: palms with the bluest foliage are the most cold tolerant. This is due to a waxy coating on the fronds.
The Sabal texana is one of the hardiest choices. Native to Zone 9, the Texas Sabal is a very cold tolerant, slow growing palm. It is characterized by its broad, cross-hatched trunk and slightly curved fan shaped fronds. Sabal minor, or Palmetto palm, is the hardiest species in the genus. This palm rarely forms an above ground stem and remains very short. It is more commonly used as a large shrub. The versatility of Sabal palms is in their ability to adapt to boggy soil conditions. The Palmetto palm even does well in shady, low light areas. The historic Kemper House in Galveston has many mature examples of both of these palms.
The Sabal palmetto is also known as the Cabbage or Florida Palm. It is reported to be the most widely planted Sabal species in the U.S. Although it is well suited for our winter climate, it's towering height and narrow ringed trunk gives it a giant toothpick-like appearance within a small residential setting. Interestingly, this palm transplants better as a mature tree than a smaller one. Fine specimens of this palm line the esplanade into South Shore Harbor Marina.
The Washingtonia is commonly known in these parts as the Mexican fan palm. A fast grower, this palm is beautiful at any height which makes it an easy landscaping choice. This tree is distinguished by its bright green fronds and thin brown cross-hatched bark. The bark eventually falls away to reveal a smooth ringed trunk. The Washingtonia does well in our clay soil. Significant numbers of these palms have been planted along State Highway 146 heading North into Kemah.
For a more feather-like appearance, Butia capitata or Pindo palm, is an excellent choice for the upper Texas coast. Its graceful blue-green fronds arch dramatically from its trunk to nearly sweeping the ground. This palm is also a slow grower and maintains a lush compact shape for many years. Although it can reach 25 feet in height, most remain shorter. A beautiful example of the Pindo palm is next to Larry's Shoes in the Baybrook Commons Shopping Center.
The Phoenix canariensis and Phoenix dactylifera are two additional choices for Zone 9. Commonly referred to as Canary Island date palm and Phoenix date palm, respectively, both specimens are quite large at maturity. The Canary Island variety has a large pineapple shaped trunk which can measure several feet in diameter. These palms can be seen along the banks of Clear Creek Channel as it curves toward the Kemah bridge from Clear Lake. Phoenix date palms make a dramatic statement at the entrances to South Shore Harbor on FM 2094.
Trachycarpus fortunei is one of the hardiest palm varieties in the world. Mature specimens can be found in Canada, Scotland and Ireland. Also known as Windmill palms, this very distinctive variety is recognized by its hairy, narrow, brown trunk. Windmill palms will do best in Zone 9 if they are planted in a partially shaded location. The Baycliff Jack-in-the-Box on the corner of FM 146 at FM 646 is landscaped with these palms.
The Chamaerops humilis is a dramatic choice as a container plant or in a landscape bed. Familiarly known as the Mediterranean fan palm, this variety commonly consists of clusters of small trunks projecting out from one larger trunk. Its small, compact shape make it easy to maintain. This palm winters well in our area and does best in well drained soil.
Lastly, I am including a selection that is not a palm at all, it is just confused with one. Cycas revoluta is the scientific name for the hardiest species of the Sago palm. The Sago is a member of the Cycad family which shares many of the graceful, sweeping frond characteristic of palm trees. These exotic plants with stiff, dark green fronds are complimented most when placed in a landscape with palm trees of varying heights. A very large, old cluster of Sago palms graces the entrance to the Moody Mansion in Galveston.
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