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Needle palm ID question


Sean Osborne

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About a dozen years ago, I separated this palm from a clump at my father's house in California and took it to Tennessee with me. 9 years ago I dug it up and transplanted it to my current home in the North Carolina mountains. My Dad didn't remember the genus and species, but was pretty sure it was native to NC or Georgia.

Since then I'm about 99.9% sure I've ID'd it as Needle Palm, Rhapidophyllum hystrix. The thing is, I say "99.9%" because of the size of the plant: it's about 3 feet tall, and has been about 3 feet tall since at least 1978, the earliest date I can be certain that it was growing at my Dad's house. Everything I read about R. hystrix says that it gets around 4'-6' tall, and about as wide as it is tall. But this plant and it's progenitors have always been small. Even after 50+ years of living in Santa Barbara, CA, the plant had created pups covering maybe 20 square feet, but none of the individuals had ever gotten any taller or wider than this. Mine now has four babies around it, but it's not getting any taller.

I have seen photos of R. hystrix significantly further North than I am, in the Plains states, growing to 6 feet tall. Mine seems perfectly happy, it blooms every year and barely seems to notice temps down to 0F. But it's not getting any taller.

Is it possible that I have stumbled across a dwarf hybrid?

IMG_20230612_150115373.jpg

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Close your eyes, then reach down quickly and grab the inflorescence. You'll know straight away if it's a Needle Palm.

A couple in my 'hood are low creepers.

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Let's see a picture of the trunk. 

It wouldn't be a hybrid, that requires two different parent species and Needle palms do not hybridize.  It would be more of a "sport" or dwarf variety of needle palm.  Sabal minor has standard, dwarf and giant forms.  It would be along the same line as this.  There is usually some inherent diversity in any species.

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There are different forms of Rhapidophyllum.  Some grow a short trunk, have many pups and form a large clump, and this is probably the most common form.  There are some that don’t grow any pups, and stay a single trunk palm, or maybe grow a pup or two years later.  I have seen a form that doesn’t grow an above-ground trunk at all, similar to yours.  The form that I have seen like this also sends pups out sometimes over a foot away from the main trunk on long rhizomes, similar to Rhapis.  I have often wondered if this form could be classified as a separate variety, but probably not.  I have seen them in habitat like that, and in fact, I made a post about it several years ago.

 

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I'm a fan of christening plants with the species name of your creative preference.  When I have a plant that creeps out instead of growing up tall like it should, I call it (Fill-in-the-blank) repens.  I have a Camellia repens and a Fatsia repens.  When plants die to the ground and then come back to life- Cordyline zombii, Nandina zombii, and Clematis zombii.  My 7' tall Bracken Fern is Pteridium stratosphericus, and I have a big patch of Nepeta robusta that my cats love and it makes a bitter tea.  

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