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Sabal Palmetto range officially extended into Virginia Beach?

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Hi guys, brand new to this site. I’ve been on here for quite some time as a reader but never posted before.

I wanted to talk about Sabal Palmetto’s range possibly being officially extended to Virginia Beach. Usually the cut off is in North Carolina and naturally it is. But this past week I went down to VA Beach with the sole intention of finding as many volunteers as I could at the oceanfront, and let me tell you how shocked I was by the amount there was. First let me start off by saying I went on the 2 most rainiest days so unfortunately I was only able to cover 1/2 of the strip. And of that half I only covered the east side of Atlantic Ave. And of that east side I was only able to cover the street side, not the boardwalk at all. And after only covering that fraction of the strip, I found dozens, if not hundreds of Sabals growing at all stages. And not just Sabal, Pindos as well! 

On every block there was at least a few barely beginning to sprout, but there were definitely some a few years and older. The biggest one I found was at the Capes Resort which easily was 12-15 feet tall, the trunk starting to rise. There were several around the height of stop signs and most were to my hips and lower. There were a few that were growing nearly at the boardwalk, the limit before you get to the sand. I would say half of these things were growing in bushes, or under trees, or in other protected areas. But there was a good chunk growing out in the open, exposed to all elements. 

Having resisted multiple winters and continuing to grow (most showed little to no damage), I have no doubt they will grow to be some of the hardiest Sabals in existence. The offsprings of these strands will only get hardier and adapt better to the climate so I 100% believe Sabal is permanently here to stay. I know that most of these trees have come from Florida or other nurseries much further south and this isn’t an extension of range occurring naturally from its NC counterparts. But I think the range for this tree has officially crossed the state line. 

I’m planning to take another trip next month to finish the other half of the beach where I know there are just as many growing. What do you guys think of these Virginian palmettos?































































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Johnny Palmseed

Interesting to see some of them look older. I wonder if they were planted as such or if they have been there for several years. Some pindo palms in there too? If there hasn’t been a severe cold weather mass in a while, anything’s possible. Probably only a matter of time.

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They seem to be naturalized. They are very weedy in general. It will be interesting to see how they do long term. I can't help but think too bad out native palm to the SE is so ugly. It just looks ratty everywhere to  me, But it is cool on the other hand that palms are growing furthur up the coast on their own, regardless what type they are. Thanks for the pics and your exploration. Are they only growing like this right at the beach?

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With as commonly as Sabal palmetto and Sabal minor are planted by man, I am sure that both species will eventually be considered naturalized in the Virginia Beach area.  Like many species at the limits of their ranges, extreme weather events will occur that will check back the species’ numbers to a few individuals and these will eventually repopulate the area (and of course in this case, the palms in question will be constantly replanted as attrition occurs).

But in a hypothetical situation, I believe if one were to plant many, many Sabal palmetto and Sabal minor of all sizes in the Virginia Beach and Norfolk area just once (and there were none growing there to start), that you would have self-sustaining populations for the foreseeable future (unless the area had a 100-200 year freeze the following winter, before the plants were established).

I am not sure how long a plant species has to be present and self-sustaining in an area to be considered “naturalized”, but I don’t think the Sabal palmetto and Sabal minor populations in Va Beach and adjacent areas will be considered an extension of the species’ natural ranges anytime soon.  Maybe someday (500 years from now for example), botanists (or taxonomists?) will consider a species native if it is known to have been self-sustaining in a location for greater than “x” number of years, even if the species is known to have originally been introduced by man.  

So for example, extant and self-sustaining for 50 years and the species is naturalized, extant and self-sustaining for greater than 200 years and it is native.  This is just speculation on my part as to what might be a logical way to treat the native ranges of floral species in the future when man has had the ability to understand and document the natural environment for a longer period of time.

As a side note, I think Syagrus romanzoffiana, Washingtonia, exotic Sabal species and Phoenix hybrids galore will one day be considered naturalized and then maybe native to Central Florida and South Florida will likely have scores of palm species that become self-sustaining.  Heck, it already does, especially in areas of human habitation.

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@Johnny Palmseed Almost all of them have grown naturally. I’ve been going to VA beach every year, I live in VA. So I’ve been keeping tabs on several of them since I first spotted them. The one in the last picture for example I first spotted in 2018 when it was slightly smaller. Most of the pictures are in random spots where there’s no way they we’re purposely planted. And most weren’t on hotel property, they were on the city properties that connected Atlantic Ave. to the boardwalk. The really big ones are I would say at least 7-10 years old so I now they’ve seen the worst of the worst winters there. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see. 

@chinandega81 yeah they may be ugly but they’re growing. I’m sure as they mature they’ll get more adapted and look better as each frond comes. It’s like this all over that part of the city, I can’t speak for more inland since I didn’t really go there. I was trying to make it a beach trip as well. I will say there aren’t as many palms once you leave the oceanfront area but the ones that I did see looked great. I’ll post those pics soon. 

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VA Jeff

In colonial times, there was a report of sabal minor growing as far NW as near Williamsburg, but the question is whether this was a mistaken ID (yucca?) by an early botanist, or whether it was true.  In the early 1800s, there was a bitter cold that vanquished palms north of Monkey Island, NC, in Currituck County, NC near the VA border.  Less hardy sabals survive in the Virginia Peninsula,  colder than VA Beach.  I planted a small sabal Riverside in York County at least 15 years ago that is still thriving and with several feet of trunk now.

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The biggest Volunteer that has naturalized in VA beach (that I know of) is this one at Jungle Golf.  They were one of the first to bring up Sabal Palmetto to VA beach when they opened in 1970.   The Cold of 2018 hardly scathed it..  There are other large Volunteers at JG but this one is the largest and oldest.  Most of the palms in JG are from the 1980s and I believe there is one from the original 1970 planting left.


Edited by Mr.SamuraiSword
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I have seen plenty of naturalized palmettos in Virginia Beach! They seem to be almost taking over slowly. 

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