Florida is known for its beaches, its laid-back lifestyle and its tropical appeal, and what says that more than the iconic palm tree?
The Florida state tree is the Sabal Palm, also known as the Cabbage Palm, but as iconic as the palm tree is to Florida, only eleven species of the plant are actually native to the state, with only five native to Northwest Florida.
“Most of what we’re growing here in Florida are not even native to the United States,” said Okaloosa County extension director Larry Williams. “The palms probably did not exist this far west, without men’s movement. There are really very few palms that are native to North Florida.”
In Northwest Florida most of the large palm trees have begun to brown and appear dead after the uncommon freeze in January, and locals have begun to question the cost and care incurred by the weather.
“It's very sad, seeing all the dead palm trees people planted, trusting that this was a good place for them,” Said Kathleen Reed on The Log’s Facebook page.
“It really goes back to people doing their homework on the cold hardy types of palms,” Williams stated, “We need to be thinking long term in our landscaping plans and realize we do live in the coldest part of Florida. We are kind of pushing their northern limit.”
Williams explained that a majority of the large stately palm trees in the North Florida landscape have been brought in from more southern and arid climates such as South Florida, the Canary Islands, and even Arizona.
With frost-bitten palms lining streets and lawns, the question arises as to how to best care for the tree.
“A lot of palms are eyesores, and people want to do some pruning,” Williams said, “but those dead leaves provide some protection, and it’s better to leave them on if you can.”
Aubrey Santucci of Coastline Tree Service and Landscaping and her husband Guy Santucci have been in the Destin landscaping business for 19 years, and have seen their share of North Florida winters.
“I personally think they should wait a little bit, and leave them on for six more weeks,” Aubrey said of the dead branches, “They just went through shock with the freeze, and trimming the fronds off would put them in more shock.”
Santucci explained the cost for palm trees is substantial with the popular tropical palm tree, the Washingtonia Palm, costing upwards of $30 a foot.
“We generally start with an eight foot tree, with the super tall trees between 50-60 feet,” she said noting that the tree and installation cost could equal between $1,200 and $1,500.
“It’s a lot of money, sometimes $10,000 a pop,” said Williams, “There are people who don’t blink an eye at that.”
But with such an investment, it’s good to know what palms best stand up to the weather.
“Do your homework on the palms that are better suited for the low temperatures we get here but also the hot humid weather we have in the summer months,” Williams advised.
“It all comes down to one thing, plant the right plant in the right place.”
Cold Damage on Palms
Palms for North Florida