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Pensacola Date Palm Disaster


Matthew92

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The college I go to in Pensacola had a formal planting of date palms in front of the main auditorium building. They were planted in 2002 as smaller trees maybe 10 feet tall with only several feet of trunk. They eventually got to about 25-30 feet tall. However, the 2013-2014 winter took a major toll: there was around 17 degrees, an entire day basically below freezing, multiple mid to low 20's, and a coating of freezing rain during which it went to 20 degrees. Almost total defoliation. One of the palms (11 total) actually died while the others barely hung on. Next winter, although not as hard, wasn't much better, getting around 20 degrees. The canopies were still not fully recovered in December of 2015. 

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(the above picture was probably taken almost 10 years ago, as they eventually got around 7 feet taller than this- source of picture here)

So near the beginning of this past fall semester one day, I walked by only to see a stump where one had been. It looked like it had been ripped off rather that sawed. The area they are planted in is a sort of plaza that is completely filled with people and students at various times for activities and such. Come later to find out that apparently one early morning under fair weather conditions and no significant wind, the tree just simply snapped off at the trunk (maybe 5 feet up) and fell down. Luckily no one was around. Again, these are big trees with about 20 feet of heavy trunk. And what is weird is that there were green leaves on it and it seemed to be healthy.

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The college promptly replanted this one with a full grown replacement (already in addition to the other one lost by cold). In October, we had the remnants of hurricane Patricia combine with low pressure along the Gulf Coast that created a rainy and very windy day here in Pensacola. There were literally tropical storm force winds with higher gusts.

So the next day, I see TWO STUMPS. Apparently, 2 more snapped off (very thankfully after all student activities had ceased there) in the wind after nightfall. Now the whole area was taped off as a caution should more fall down.

Later during a student activity in the auditorium, we were given an explanation of what happened. Apparently an arborist was brought on campus and found that in the trunks of these date palms, some kind of fungus had grown after the trees were stressed from the hard freezes and weakened the trunk.

So for the remainder of the fall semester, what they did was brace the trees with rods and tied them to the trunks. It was then explained that they were going to look into types of trees to replace for the spring.

Now coming back this spring semester, I noticed some great landscaping additions on campus (including a beautiful mule palm) and then for the plaza in front of the auditorium, they planted eleven about 13-14ft. beautiful new…… Phoenix sylvestris!!

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Not sure what the thinking is there. They sure are great looking though, with the trunks having that orange tint from the freshly cut leaf bases and lush, full canopies.

Sylvestris is a little less hardy than dactyilifera though. So I am sort of puzzled. These probably would have been decimated in 2014.

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Edited by Opal92
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I think you are right, not a good option for Pensacola, my Betrock's Landscape Palms book lists them as hardy to at least 22F.  A better choice would have been more dactyliferas from a source at the northern part of their range, or Pindo Palms.

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4 hours ago, Mr. Coconut Palm said:

I think you are right, not a good option for Pensacola, my Betrock's Landscape Palms book lists them as hardy to at least 22F.  A better choice would have been more dactyliferas from a source at the northern part of their range, or Pindo Palms.

I almost perceive that they were of a less cold hardy strain as they were literally completely defoliated after 2014. In my hometown where the temp got just as cold or colder then Pensacola, there were some newly planted ones that got through with much less damage.

And when they announced they were going to look for replacement trees, I thought about submitting a suggestion to the college- now I wish I did. Probably the best options would have been some taller Pindos, mules, W. filifera (since they cold hardier than robusta, although not sure how they would do in humid summer or where to get pure, full grown mature trees in FL), W. filibusta (only ones that had more filifera traits), or Livistona nitida (I've heard these may be cold hardy enough for 8b, but not completely sure).

Edited by Opal92
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The edible Date Palm native to the deserts of the Middle East don't do well at all in marginal locations with humidity. In areas where it resembles their native habitat with very low himidity, they can handle the cold much better than the cold himidity of the gulf coast.  The Mule Palm is the next big thing that is about the explode in sales In AZ where I live and they would do very well in Pensacola.  I went to South Alabama so I know the area well. Do Queen Palms survive there these days? I experimented with them grown outdoors in Moile and fried every one of them.  Pindos grow all over Mobile, it was almost as prevalent as the Sable...not really but there were quite a few. Now with the Pindo/queen hybrid, we may get the look of the tropics farther north.  

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56 minutes ago, Opal92 said:

I almost perceive that they were of a less cold hardy strain as they were literally completely defoliated after 2014. In my hometown where the temp got just as cold or colder then Pensacola, there were some newly planted ones that got through with much less damage.

And when they announced they were going to look for replacement trees, I thought about submitting a suggestion to the college- now I wish I did. Probably the best options would have been some taller Pindos, mules, W. filifera (since they cold hardier than robusta, although not sure how they would do in humid summer or where to get pure, full grown mature trees in FL), W. filibusta (only ones that had more filifera traits), or Livistona nitida (I've heard these may be cold hardy enough for 8b, but not completely sure).

Pure filiferas I have heard do not do well in Florida because of the high humidity and high rainfall.  Livistona chinensis would have been a good choice too.  I have seen them grown in Bryan, Texas to a moderately large trunking size with little if any cold injury.  Bryan is a borderline 8B/9A Climate.

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There are 30-40 sylvestris on the north side of Houston off of the beltway at a few different hotels south and west of the airport.  They burned a little in 2013 and 2014, but not too bad.  I didn't see them in 2011 but I'd guess they were defoliated. I know a few folks disagree but that area is borderline 9A/9B+ 9 out of 10 winters.

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  • 2 months later...

Sorry for a late post but this answers some questions I had. I live about a mile from this campus and had a P. sylvestris about twenty foot tall and it snapped about five feet up the trunk. It was a beautiful palm and was the centerpiece of my attempts at a tropical looking landscape. Now I know what happened. I am now struggling with what to replace it with. I was actually considering the P. dactylifera as I had seen those and they did not seem to brown every winter in frost. Back to the drawing board. This was a specimen palm and it was used to shade a circular paver sitting area. I suppose that also was the cause of the demise of my P. reclinatas too!

Does anyone know if a regular fungicide spray program would have prevented this from happening?

Darkman in Pensacola - Looking for cold hardy palms and plants that make Pensacola look tropical

Life - Some assembly required, Side effects frequently experienced, Mileage may vary, As is no warranty, Batteries not included, Instructions shipped separately and are frequently wrong!

Kentucky Bourbon - It may not solve the problem but it helps to make it tolerable!

Statistics - Opinions that analyst twist to support the insanity of those that pay them.

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I would never have guessed that the hardier Phoenix species, like dactylifera, would be marginal in Pensacola (outside of 10-20+ year cold, which 2014 may have been).  Those new hybrids, lovely as they are, will not be there forever.  Healthy, non-hurricane cut Sabal palmetto might just be the best choice there, if well cared for until established.

 

When I was in New Orleans, I marveled at the large, healthy Phoenix dactylifera downtown.  I don't believe Pensacola tends to get colder than New Orleans, but I could be wrong and microclimates might be a factor (this location at the college in Pensacola may get colder than downtown New Orleans among the skyscrapers.

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Normally NOLA has a warmer Winter than Pensacola. The Pensacola 2013/2014 Winter was a 100 year event which was followed by a 25 year event. The back to back blows were devastating. I loved my P. sylvestris so much so I may put one back and hope for the best or maybe go with P. dactylifera which seems to have a higher frost tolerance. Also might install overhead sprayers just for frost relief and put on trunk wraps for hard freezes. I don't think a Mule can match the elegance and canopy thickness of the two Phoenix palms I'm considering.

Darkman in Pensacola - Looking for cold hardy palms and plants that make Pensacola look tropical

Life - Some assembly required, Side effects frequently experienced, Mileage may vary, As is no warranty, Batteries not included, Instructions shipped separately and are frequently wrong!

Kentucky Bourbon - It may not solve the problem but it helps to make it tolerable!

Statistics - Opinions that analyst twist to support the insanity of those that pay them.

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