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iamjv

Death of the northern most Alaskan palm....

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plamfrong

JV, It's great that you got to visit Ketchikan and Sitka looking for palms. Ketchikan has more or less the same climate as Sitka, except for being a couple degrees warmer in summer. It's also wetter, which could be a strike against it. Juneau is substantially colder than both, at least a full USDA zone. I think Sitka was a good test.

This post prompted me to do a little digging. HPI edition #39 has a letter (which apparently was not edited for grammar) from J.D. Rowell in the back. It reads as follows:

"Enclosed is a photo of the palms in Sitka Alaska on May 19-99. On the far right is a R. hystrix planted as a 1-gallon size in 1997. It is not grown much since. The other 2 palms to the left are T. fortunei. They were planted in 1995 as 1-gallon sizes but they are growing, albeit slowly.

"The palms are planted inf front of the Sitka Pioneers Home and are very close to the building. It is run by the state of Alaska and has a full-time gardener, Jerry Snelling, which is very interested in the palms. He has been putting a small plastic "house' over the palms during the coldest days and I am sure this has helped. We both hope that the palms will get to a point where this protection will not be necessary. However, Sitka has winter minimums in the low teens f (-7 to -10C) and I believe the all time low is -8F (-22C). Also, winters are very long and often very windy. Our hopes are high.

"Will try to keep you posted,

J.D. Rowell, Sacramento, CA"

The picture shows the Trachys doing really well, but much smaller than in the picture taken by Bartlett, that you just posted in this thread. They are clearly in front of the same building in all the pics and do not represent different plantings. The fact that they got as large as they did, and grew adequately for such a long time, is impressive and to proves Trachycarpus is able to grow well in cool summers. If that isn't proof enough, parts of the coast of Washington and even Oregon have average summer temperatures no higher than around 60-62 degrees F, the same as Sitka, and these areas support Trachycarpus. (As an aside, I also know of one Rhapidophyllum in a garden in Yachats, Oregon, about 1/4 mile from the ocean, that has grown well, flowered, and set seed.)

As to their demise... I think a quick look at historical weather data pretty much tells the story. In general, Southeast Alaska has a remarkably high proportion of all-time record lows and severe cold events from recent years. This stands in contrast with Washington and Oregon where the really bad winters are but a long-forgotten memory to most people. Among the cold events of recent years were two in 2006. In mid-March 2006 Sitka experienced a multi-day freeze with temperatures bottoming out around 5F, and daytime highs below freezing. In late November it again dropped to that neighborhood during another multi-day freeze, with minima of 12F and highs in the upper teens for 2-3 days. I can imagine if that would be a bit much for Trachycarpus, having been heavily damaged in the first one (possibly already starting to grow as day length increased) and then getting nailed again before it had a chance to recover (perhaps from defoliation) in March.

As is the case with many palms, the limits of climate adaptability aren't attributable to a single factor. Cool summers aren't a problem for T. fortunei, and 5 degrees F. usually isn't either, either one by itself.

Weather Underground, and the Western Regional Climate Center, provide useful climate data for Sitka:

http://www.wunderground.com/history/airpor...hlyHistory.html

http://www.wrcc.dri.edu/cgi-bin/cliMAIN.pl?ak8494

The all-time record low for Sitka is 0F.

Should Trachys be tried again in Sitka? Absolutely, in my opinion - but they should be of known provenance, from some especially promising or superior form. Based on the performance of 'Nanital' in Britain, that would certainly seem like a worthy trial.

Ian Barclay

Sequim, WA

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iamjv

Ian, thank you so very much for this very informative post! Wonderful that you found some data on when the palms were initially planted and that they were protected to some degree for a period of time. Interesting to note that a needle had been planted there as well. I noted no obvious clues that it existed at one time, so I would presume it died many years ago. Clearly the Trachy that was less exposed grew the most and survived the longest so that is certainly something to take away from this experiment.

Interesting enough I had spoken to the gift/book shop owner within the Pioneer Home and she informed me that the past few years were unusal weather wise and that the past two summers were hardly summer like with cool and wet weather. No doubt the combination of factors played into the final demise of the palms.

I am with you, it would be great to find someone else up there that is willing to give it a try( planting a palm in Sitka). Many of the locals knew about the palms at the Pioneer House and just maybe there will be someone willing to try again.

Thanks again for the insightful post. Jv

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_Keith

Thanks Ian. Very informative.

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iamjv

Hey Ian,

I forgot to ask you what 'HPI edition #39' stood for??? What publication is this? Thanks. Jv

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plamfrong
Hey Ian,

I forgot to ask you what 'HPI edition #39' stood for??? What publication is this? Thanks. Jv

You're very welcome. I'm referring to Hardy Palm International, the journal of the Pacific Northwest Palm and Exotic Plant Society. #39 was in 1999 I believe.

Looking again at your pictures... it looks like the palm simply lost its center spear (from freezing most likely) a year or two before the photograph. The other fronds probably went into a slow decline after that, though a copper fungicide spray might have saved the plant at any time if the gardener had known it. That's more trouble than most gardeners want to go to even though it only takes a few seconds to do it.

A little more data... on this table

http://www.wrcc.dri.edu/cgi-bin/cliMONtavt.pl?ak8494

... you can see that summer 2008 was very cool throughout. 2007 doesn't look so bad.

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iamjv

Ian,

Thanks for the additional info. Clearly 2008 was a much cooler year throughout the growing season there at Sitka... that might have been the 'straw that broke the camels back' for the trachy. Totally agree with you that there are things that could have been done to help the palm recover, had someone been taking care of it or knew what to do...

BTW are any of those HPI journals available on line? Thanks. Jv

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plamfrong

I could be wrong but I don't think they are. It sounds like some back issues are available for sale through the web site.

Ian

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