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September 23rd, 2020

The elegant palm that can be used for making jam

by R.S. Walsh

The Sylvester date palm tree, also known as the phoenix sylvestris, is one of the most popular palm trees in the world. This luxurious tree is often used for renowned golf courses, tropical hotels, along major highways and can be used on larger home lots where there is room for a true statement palm. The Sylvester palm can be grown in states like Alabama, Arizona and Arkansas although it is a native to Southern Pakistan and most of India.

The Sylvester palm has a slow to moderate growth rate and can get up to 40 feet tall and about 10 to 15 feet wide. With a moderate to high tolerance for salt and a need for lots of sunshine, this palm is a good fit for our island environment. Blooming in late spring/early summer, its small white flowers are supported by 2 to 3 feet long branching inflorescence coming among the leaves. The Sylvester is dioceses, male and female flowers are born on different trees. Flowers are followed by golden oval fruits that are about 1 inch in diameter, turning purple-black when fully ripe. Some like to make wine and jam out of this small sweet tasting fruit that contains a single small seed or better yet you can eat it fresh.

The appearance has a lot of similar characteristics with the true date palm, phoenix dactylifera. It has a solitary robust trunk with a unique diamond pattern created by leaf scars. Some growers have combined two or more Sylvester palms when they are quite young to make a cluster which is really impressive and can create quite a centerpiece in the landscape with enough room to accommodate it.

One of the most desirable aspects of this palm is the low maintenance. Trimming this tree eventually will call for a very tall ladder or a professional tree trimmer occasionally, but it’s a simple case of trimming old dead leaves that tend to make “skirt” surrounding the trunk under the green fronds. To prevent nutritional deficiency, try applying a good quality palm fertilizer that has continuous release formula twice a year during growing season.

So if you want to make a statement in your tropical paradise, add one or even two Sylvester palms to your yard and enjoy the elegant look of silvery blue-green fronds, an impressively patterned trunk and the shade and beauty this unique palm can provide.

This column is a joint effort by all at In The Garden, Sanibel’s local garden center located at 3889 Sanibel Captiva Road, Sanibel Island, Florida.

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