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Palm Trees

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Don and I spent last week in Hawaii and saw many different palm trees .Some had coconuts on them, while others were producing other fruits and building or weaving materials. For those that think all palms are alike they are not. Some are small and would easily grow as tabletop houseplants while other will grow more than 100 feet high and other get enormous trunks.

If you are a listener who likes to try new things, here's a chance to practice some horticulture skills with your culinary arts skills.

If any of your favorite Christmas recipes call for dates, there's a chance the upcoming fruitcake frenzy or other Christmas baking will provide you with some date seeds. Buy whole dates that have not been pitted. As long as the dates have not been cooked or chopped, they can grow into an attractive date palm.

Date palms are placed within the genus Phoenix, although their association with this ancient mythical bird of Egypt is unclear. There are 12 to 18 species within the genus, depending, with three of these frequently being grown as house plants.

Phoenix dactylifera is the species that supplies dates to the world's bakers. This is a large sturdy-looking palm that is grown in most areas of the worlds that have a Mediterranean climate. In California, date palms are used as boulevard trees and they reach heights of 30 meters or more. In your house, a date palm may eventually reach the ceiling, but this will require a lifetime of growth under nearly ideal conditions.

The canary date palm (P. canariensis) is native to the Canary Islands, but is now grown as a landscape tree in most areas with suitable climates. It does not produce commercial dates, but is widely available as an indoor palm. Indoors it forms a dense attractive palm that will eventually grow to about six feet high.

The miniature date palm (P. roebelenii), seldom exceeds 6 feet outdoors in the tropics, and will only grow 2-3 feet tall in the house.

Growing your date seeds is an interesting activity for even young gardeners. The seeds of some palms may take up to two years to germinate. Fortunately, date seeds are usually not quite this slow but be prepared to wait a minimum of three months before expecting any sign of life.

Plant each seed be placed into a small pot where it can be kept moist and warm until it germinates. Small pots dry out quite quickly, so if you are negligent in watering house plants, use an alternative method. Simply push any date seeds you happen to find into the growing medium of a larger potted plant and forget about them. This way you won't be tending vacant little pots of soil for months on end, hoping to someday see a tiny sign of life.

Next summer you may be pleasantly surprised to find a palm seed germinating in a pot. By forgetting about the seeds after planting, you are also spared any disappointment if the seeds were not viable from the start.

Young date palms are far from a spectacular. For most of the first year it will look like nothing more than a single stiff grasslike leaf. Eventually a second leaf will emerge, slightly larger than the first, with each successive leaf exceeding the previous ones in size.

It may be two years or more before the plant begins to produce leaves with the divisions we expect to see on palm leaves. (Palm trees are known as "palms" because the leaves of many are highly divided, with individual leaflets radiating outward from a central point, like the fingers around the palm of a human hand.)

When you decide to move the small palm into its own pot, choose a pot that is narrow and deep. These plants form strong downward roots that begin to lift the plant out of the soil if the pot is too shallow.

Date palms will survive in dingy, dry locations where few other plants will survive but will only form a fine specimen if given bright sunlight and high humidity. Reduce watering during the winter. During periods of active growth give the plant the brightest indoor light possible, keep it moist and fertilize it with 20--20--20 every few weeks.

Turn those Christmas discards into a lovely tree that will outlive you if properly care for.

Larry A. Sagers Regional Horticulturist Utah State University Extension Service Thanksgiving Point Office

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