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Best pinnate palm choices for San Antonio TX


Ben G.

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Not to start any fights, but I am hoping to get opinions from folks who have been growing palms in TX. I have mentioned that I will be moving to the SATX area soon. The house I am buying is in the suburbs and it has a 0.29 acre lot. The yard is mostly just grass, with a nice pool and patio area. As I try to plan out my vision for the space, I am seeking some advice about which pinnate palms would be worth trying. 

I don't plan to protect my palms, unless they are small and pretty new in the ground. So keep that in mind when considering whether a palm would be worth trying.

It is my understanding based on what I have read and observed in the area that the best choices for pinnate palms would be:

1. Butias

2. CIDPs

3. Butia x syagrus

4. P. dactylifera

5. P. Sylvestris

Would that be the correct ranking of viability in your opinions? I have heard varying reports of the hardiness of all of these palms, so I know there may not be a clear answer. Based on what I saw on my latest trip down a few weeks ago, I feel confident about numbers 1 and 2. I feel less sure about the rest, because they aren't as common and/or they were killed off in larger numbers in the last few bad freezes. 

What do you think?

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Paging Marcus H… Marcus H… please come to the thread!

Ben I think you are on the right track for Pinnate in SA.

I would add Chamaedorea Radicals (Trunking & Non-Trunking), Chamaedorea Microspadix, ‘Douglas’ Delight, Arenga Engleri, Phoenix Reclinata, Phoenix Acaulis.

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27 minutes ago, Dwarf Fan said:

Paging Marcus H… Marcus H… please come to the thread!

Ben I think you are on the right track for Pinnate in SA.

I would add Chamaedorea Radicals (Trunking & Non-Trunking), Chamaedorea Microspadix, ‘Douglas’ Delight, Arenga Engleri, Phoenix Reclinata, Phoenix Acaulis.

Thanks for the suggestions. I do have a small non-trunking radicalis in a pot already, but would like to get more of them for sure.

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1 hour ago, Ben OK said:

What do you think?

I lived in SA for almost 5 years.  Your list is pretty good but depending on your soil pH Butias may not do well.  I had 3 in my yard - two in the back yard which did fine and one in the front yard where the pH was higher (more alkaline) and the new growth was always yellowish despite fertilizing.  When I dug it out and put it in a container it quickly snapped out of it and looked fine.  In spite of what you may have read regarding Syagrus romanzoffiana, they do just fine with proper care most years but obviously did not handle the freezes that occur every 30 years or so.  San Antonio airport only saw temps below 19° F (pushing their limit as a mature palm) three times since 2003 and two of those three years have occurred since 2021.  The area of SA is also important because the more popular NW side can reach temps a few degrees colder than what the airport temps are.  South and West sides (where I lived) is warmer than the airport.  Queen palms grow fast and can become too large to protect increasing their chances of getting wiped out in a severe cold snap.  But mules are equally if not more attractive and fast growing and are a better choice for cold hardiness.  Acrocomia totai is another option if you don't mind the spines and if you can find one.  They are more cold hardy than queen palms.  Acrocomia aculeata is slightly less cold hardy than totai and I grew one while I was there that survived 20° F as a juvenile.

Edited by Fusca
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Jon Sunder

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14 minutes ago, Fusca said:

I lived in SA for almost 5 years.  Your list is pretty good but depending on your soil pH Butias may not do well.  I had 3 in my yard - two in the back yard which did fine and one in the front yard where the pH was higher (more alkaline) and the new growth was always yellowish despite fertilizing.  When I dug it out and put it in a container it quickly snapped out of it and looked fine.  In spite of what you may have read regarding Syagrus romanzoffiana, they do just fine with proper care most years but obviously did not handle the freezes that occur every 30 years or so.  San Antonio airport only saw temps below 19° F (pushing their limit as a mature palm) three times since 2003 and two of those three years have occurred since 2021.  The area of SA is also important because the more popular NW side can reach temps a few degrees colder than what the airport temps are.  South and West sides (where I lived) is warmer than the airport.  Queen palms grow fast and can become too large to protect increasing their chances of getting wiped out in a severe cold snap.  But mules are equally if not more attractive and fast growing and are a better choice for cold hardiness.  Acrocomia totai is another option if you don't mind the spines and if you can find one.  They are more cold hardy than queen palms.  Acrocomia aculeata is slightly less cold hardy than totai and I grew one while I was there that survived 20° F as a juvenile.

Thank you for all of this information. I will be on the NE side, so I imagine I won't be too far off from the airport temps.

I hope the severe cold seen by the SA area several times in recent years does become more rare again.  I have been hit by all of the same cold at my current house in OK. I got so tired of it this year, that I dug up my two surviving Tracycarpus takils before the bad one hit this winter. We were looking at -2F again, so I said I was done. I knew I might be moving at that point, so I dug them up rather than protect them in ground.

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10 minutes ago, Ben OK said:

I will be on the NE side

I don't know for sure but you're probably OK for planting Butia but I'd have my soil checked by Texas A&M before making any assumptions.  All of my Butias survived 9° F in 2021 but the smaller ones had to be trunk-cut while the large one did not spear-pull with 70-80% leaf damage.  If the scientists who are saying that we are in the midst of a "solar minimum" are correct we should be still experiencing a few more years of unusual cold events before it normalizes again.  Hope it normalizes this year!  Good call with the takils.  :)

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Jon Sunder

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Just now, Fusca said:

I don't know for sure but you're probably OK for planting Butia but I'd have my soil checked by Texas A&M before making any assumptions.  All of my Butias survived 9° F in 2021 but the smaller ones had to be trunk-cut while the large one did not spear-pull with 70-80% leaf damage.  If the scientists who are saying that we are in the midst of a "solar minimum" are correct we should be still experiencing a few more years of unusual cold events before it normalizes again.  Hope it normalizes this year!

Thanks for the heads up. I will get it tested before spending much money on any larger palms (I am considering getting some bigger specimens to get things looking good faster). 

I hope we come out of it soon too. It has been rough.

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Okay as a SA resident I'd like to chime in.  The best looking pinnate for the SA area is Butia Odorata.  That's also the most leaf hardy palm. You can grow other palms like you mentioned that will survive but they won’t always look good. CIDPS keep defoliating,  Phoenix dactylifera also keeps defoliating a lot of times.  You wouldn't enjoy the looks of those pinnate palms if we keep getting "normal " winter weather like we got in the last few years.  If you don't mind looking at a palm that looks more like a paint brush at least for 6 months out of a year than go for it.  It just gets too cold here .  You'll be way better off growing fan palms in San Antonio.  

Edited by MarcusH
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2 hours ago, Ben OK said:

Not to start any fights, but I am hoping to get opinions from folks who have been growing palms in TX. I have mentioned that I will be moving to the SATX area soon. The house I am buying is in the suburbs and it has a 0.29 acre lot. The yard is mostly just grass, with a nice pool and patio area. As I try to plan out my vision for the space, I am seeking some advice about which pinnate palms would be worth trying. 

I don't plan to protect my palms, unless they are small and pretty new in the ground. So keep that in mind when considering whether a palm would be worth trying.

It is my understanding based on what I have read and observed in the area that the best choices for pinnate palms would be:

1. Butias

2. CIDPs

3. Butia x syagrus

4. P. dactylifera

5. P. Sylvestris

Would that be the correct ranking of viability in your opinions? I have heard varying reports of the hardiness of all of these palms, so I know there may not be a clear answer. Based on what I saw on my latest trip down a few weeks ago, I feel confident about numbers 1 and 2. I feel less sure about the rest, because they aren't as common and/or they were killed off in larger numbers in the last few bad freezes. 

What do you think?

I’m in North San Antonio. This is a photo of my Mule palm taken before the winter of 2023. IMG_2372.thumb.jpeg.047561209779d66e3b698510cd2e6ca5.jpegI didn’t protect it during that winter to see if it could withstand the cold well in North San Antonio. Unfortunately, it completely defoliated, and even the spear pulled, but it eventually bounced back. So, this past winter, I covered it with a heat source, and I think it sustained about 15% damage. Every Mule Palm is different, so I believe mine might have slightly less cold hardiness, resembling more of a Queen Palm. I’ve noticed that my neighbors have mature Sylvester Palms, which completely defoliate every winter but always come back fully. Hope this helps.

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14 minutes ago, Kenc said:

I’m in North San Antonio. This is a photo of my Mule palm taken before the winter of 2023. IMG_2372.thumb.jpeg.047561209779d66e3b698510cd2e6ca5.jpegI didn’t protect it during that winter to see if it could withstand the cold well in North San Antonio. Unfortunately, it completely defoliated, and even the spear pulled, but it eventually bounced back. So, this past winter, I covered it with a heat source, and I think it sustained about 15% damage. Every Mule Palm is different, so I believe mine might have slightly less cold hardiness, resembling more of a Queen Palm. I’ve noticed that my neighbors have mature Sylvester Palms, which completely defoliate every winter but always come back fully. Hope this helps.

Thanks. Those helpful bits of information to know. I like the mules the best of the pinnate options, I will just have to see how easily I can get my hands on one.

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Palmbuddha in Leon Valley has plenty of Mules starting at $350 .

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1 hour ago, MarcusH said:

Okay as a SA resident I'd like to chime in.  The best looking pinnate for the SA area is Butia Odorata.  That's also the most leaf hardy palm. You can grow other palms like you mentioned that will survive but they won’t always look good. CIDPS keep defoliating,  Phoenix dactylifera also keeps defoliating a lot of times.  You wouldn't enjoy the looks of those pinnate palms if we keep getting "normal " winter weather like we got in the last few years.  If you don't mind looking at a palm that looks more like a paint brush at least for 6 months out of a year than go for it.  It just gets too cold here .  You'll be way better off growing fan palms in San Antonio.  

Thanks for the input. I plan on planting some sabals, chamaerops, brahea, and possibly nannorrhops. I will grow butias if I think it will do well in the soil as well. Beyond that, I want to try a few more things like those mentioned above.

I do hesitate to try too much though, for all of the reasons you mentioned. I have spent too much time caring for plants that don't survive long term in Oklahoma. I don't mind experimenting a little bit with the new yard, but I really don't want to spend big bucks on palms that turn into stumps.

I am also excited to try some new fruits that I can't grow in my current location. I am looking to grow loquats (they are great looking trees even without producing fruit), satsuma, pomegranate, and a Lila avocado.

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No Jubeaea?  You'd think they'd like the dry.

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16 minutes ago, jwitt said:

Jubueaxbutia 

If I can find one, I would scoop up a jubaeaxbutia or a jubaeaxsyagrus in a heartbeat. I am not holding my breath that I will find one any time soon though.

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17 minutes ago, Chester B said:

No Jubeaea?  You'd think they'd like the dry.

Not sure how much they would love the summer, but if anyone in TX has tried one with any success, I would try one.... though it may be a while before it grows into much.

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18 minutes ago, Ben OK said:

Not sure how much they would love the summer, but if anyone in TX has tried one with any success, I would try one.... though it may be a while before it grows into much.

They come from a hot and very dry place.  There are photos of Jubaea from West Texas on here somewhere.

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2 hours ago, MarcusH said:

Palmbuddha in Leon Valley has plenty of Mules starting at $350 .

@Scott W has them for about $40 each shipped at 1 year old.

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1 hour ago, Chester B said:

They come from a hot and very dry place.  There are photos of Jubaea from West Texas on here somewhere.

I know they can survive in hot dry places to some degree. I had lumped them into plants that really prefer nights that cool off though. Maybe I am wrong about that though. I just worry they would have a hard time in places where the summer nighttime temps are still 78 to 80 degrees. I would be happy for someone to tell me that isn't a problem.  I think they are beautiful palms, even if they are enormous.

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3 hours ago, Ben OK said:

If I can find one, I would scoop up a jubaeaxbutia or a jubaeaxsyagrus in a heartbeat. I am not holding my breath that I will find one any time soon though.

There's 2 sellers on eBay right now.  The palmsgalore seller has jubaeaxbutiaxbutia. At least as near as I can tell. Reasonably priced, I've been using restraint so I haven't bought one. I'd seen a few members on here had purchased them and were happy. The other guy has a F1 cross but it was more$$$. Side note, did you dig up your Birmingham or decide to leave it?

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1 hour ago, Ben OK said:

I know they can survive in hot dry places to some degree. I had lumped them into plants that really prefer nights that cool off though. Maybe I am wrong about that though. I just worry they would have a hard time in places where the summer nighttime temps are still 78 to 80 degrees. I would be happy for someone to tell me that isn't a problem.  I think they are beautiful palms, even if they are enormous.

Seem to do good in El Paso(0f) and Tucson. Even Dallas for some time.  Where they grow naturally in Chile, the sun is very intense.

elpasojub.thumb.jpg.b87be33a1f09dc3e10ee97cb723daab5.jpgjvp1e7maxhr01-253489191.thumb.jpg.a2ee1bc67d36f3a06e4d6095947f24e2.jpg

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4 hours ago, Dwarf Fan said:

@Scott W has them for about $40 each shipped at 1 year old.

Actually two years old now...but the size is about a one year old since they are still in the 4x4x5 containers.  These really need bigger pots, which I'll be moving a bunch to in April after I get back from vacation.

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1 hour ago, N8ALLRIGHT said:

There's 2 sellers on eBay right now.  The palmsgalore seller has jubaeaxbutiaxbutia. At least as near as I can tell. Reasonably priced, I've been using restraint so I haven't bought one. I'd seen a few members on here had purchased them and were happy. The other guy has a F1 cross but it was more$$$. Side note, did you dig up your Birmingham or decide to leave it?

Mine from palmsgalore is my favorite in the yard.  Just flowered this year, planning on allowing ir to self pollinate as well as backcross Syagrus on it 

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5 hours ago, Dwarf Fan said:

@Scott W has them for about $40 each shipped at 1 year old.

That's a good price . I wanted to plant a mule palm but I got worried about our recent cold fronts we got over the last few years.  I don't want to protect any palm anymore.  

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Butia from what I've seen look the best after a freeze.

CIDP are tough as nails, but they've completed defoliated every winter since 2021, so they don't really start looking good until fall, then they're zapped again in winter.

Jubaea is probably worth trying, it's hard to find them though. 

Mule palms also made it through the big freeze, and they supposedly grow fast.

sticker.gif?zipcode=78015&template=stick

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On 3/22/2024 at 3:02 PM, MarcusH said:

Okay as a SA resident I'd like to chime in.  The best looking pinnate for the SA area is Butia Odorata.  That's also the most leaf hardy palm. You can grow other palms like you mentioned that will survive but they won’t always look good.

Marcus, you're correct that Butia odorata is very cold hardy and should be bulletproof in San Antonio as far as winter survival.  But it's not necessarily a good choice unless you have the right soil.  As I mentioned in my previous post they can suffer greatly and look terrible - and not because of cold damage.  Look around the area and tell me how many Butia that you see.  They're readily available in big box stores.  In the 5 years that I lived there I only saw about 4 or 5 (outside of my yard!)  None were planted at the Oblate School and the only one at the SA Botanical Garden is in a huge pot.  Initially I wondered why I wasn't seeing many around town until I experienced it first hand and read posts here from locals.  Look at the last two posts in the following thread from members in San Antonio (iamjv) and New Braunfels (NBTX11).

 

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Jon Sunder

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58 minutes ago, Fusca said:

Marcus, you're correct that Butia odorata is very cold hardy and should be bulletproof in San Antonio as far as winter survival.  But it's not necessarily a good choice unless you have the right soil.  As I mentioned in my previous post they can suffer greatly and look terrible - and not because of cold damage.  Look around the area and tell me how many Butia that you see.  They're readily available in big box stores.  In the 5 years that I lived there I only saw about 4 or 5 (outside of my yard!)  None were planted at the Oblate School and the only one at the SA Botanical Garden is in a huge pot.  Initially I wondered why I wasn't seeing many around town until I experienced it first hand and read posts here from locals.  Look at the last two posts in the following thread from members in San Antonio (iamjv) and New Braunfels (NBTX11).

 

There are some nice healthy ones at SeaWorld. There are a few around Fair Oaks Ranch that look pretty good too. I've seen them planted around people's yards looking good. You're right that they're uncommon, but everything other than Washingtonias and Sabals are uncommon here. The only place I've seen them for sale is Rainbow Gardens and Milberger's. I've not seen them at big box stores in Texas. 

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sticker.gif?zipcode=78015&template=stick

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Here are a few that I've seen around here:

https://maps.app.goo.gl/TobfvRJ9QCSt3jWy9

https://maps.app.goo.gl/GqJ8NUCPDhHrhwZu7

https://maps.app.goo.gl/tso6Kr4Un7tRELAY7

I've seen more around here riding my bike around, but I can't remember where now. They look a little beat up, as these street view shots were after particularly harsh winters, but given a mild winter they can look pretty great. They don't seem to completely defoliate like CIDP do. 

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sticker.gif?zipcode=78015&template=stick

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Does anyone know the place in Houston that had like 30 or 40 Butia planted in one area? I think it was an apartment complex? I remember someone posting it in the Texas photo thread that got deleted, I think. 

sticker.gif?zipcode=78015&template=stick

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I always check out these two handsome boys whenever I drive past them.

IMG_3343.png

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I see Butias in people's back yards and the odd one in commercial plantings.  Almost all are a nice silver color.  The ones along the highways/interstates look rough, but the privately owned ones are generally in good shape.

I have seen them for sale at Houston Garden Centers, and yesterday saw two for sale at Lowes.  But the prices are high compared to what I am accustomed to.  The ones at Lowes were the cheapest at $170, for I think a 7 gallon.  I'll have to keep going back to see if they make it to clearance.  

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14 hours ago, fr8train said:

There are some nice healthy ones at SeaWorld. There are a few around Fair Oaks Ranch that look pretty good too. I've seen them planted around people's yards looking good. You're right that they're uncommon, but everything other than Washingtonias and Sabals are uncommon here. The only place I've seen them for sale is Rainbow Gardens and Milberger's. I've not seen them at big box stores in Texas. 

Nice!  I haven't been to SeaWorld so haven't seen those Butias.  The only one at the Riverwalk doesn't look good but I think it's just planted in a bad spot.  Now that you mention it I think Lowe's and HD haven't carried them as much lately but they used to be one of the regulars.  There's definitely areas where they can be planted and other areas where they struggle.  I was advised by a couple people not to plant them when I first got there but I tried them anyway!

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Jon Sunder

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There are a lot more old Butia in some of the older Houston suburbs than I thought. Drive around Memorial, Braeburn, Hillcroft, Meyerland, etc and you'll randomly bump into big old Butia with 15-20 ft+ of trunk. Most of these areas were developed in the 1950s-1970s so the Butia likely date from that era. 

Ran into this one this week. There are bigger ones around. I'll try to stop for photos next time. There are all different forms too of varying degree of green/grey/silver and compact/open crown.

butiaaaaaaa.thumb.JPG.e7315b3c090cee6df232575bb01b7d96.JPG

16 hours ago, fr8train said:

Does anyone know the place in Houston that had like 30 or 40 Butia planted in one area? I think it was an apartment complex? I remember someone posting it in the Texas photo thread that got deleted, I think. 

Yep, it's just a few exits south of Hobby Airport near I-45

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Jonathan

Katy, TX (Zone 9a)

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This is kind of off topic but here is a very nice Butia in my hometown of El Paso. I used to admire it as a teenager back in the 80s when it was still a twin planting. At some point the one on the left died. This one looks great though! 
El Paso Butia

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And here are some more nice Butias I used to admire when I was a younger kid and we lived in Beaumont in the mid 70s! They sure grow slowly!

Beaumont Butias

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On 3/22/2024 at 4:38 PM, MarcusH said:

Palmbuddha in Leon Valley has plenty of Mules starting at $350 .

I would use a couple of trunking Mules with smaller Mediterranean fans. I have found that "less is more" and good planning saves money.

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7 hours ago, SeanK said:

I would use a couple of trunking Mules with smaller Mediterranean fans. I have found that "less is more" and good planning saves money.

Oh absolutely but here's the thing about Mules. If you want the most cold hardy mule you need to look for burgundy boots and more curved darker green fronds . A strap leaf palms isn't showing you all these traits but a 15 gallon does

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On 3/23/2024 at 8:27 PM, Fusca said:

Marcus, you're correct that Butia odorata is very cold hardy and should be bulletproof in San Antonio as far as winter survival.  But it's not necessarily a good choice unless you have the right soil.  As I mentioned in my previous post they can suffer greatly and look terrible - and not because of cold damage.  Look around the area and tell me how many Butia that you see.  They're readily available in big box stores.  In the 5 years that I lived there I only saw about 4 or 5 (outside of my yard!)  None were planted at the Oblate School and the only one at the SA Botanical Garden is in a huge pot.  Initially I wondered why I wasn't seeing many around town until I experienced it first hand and read posts here from locals.  Look at the last two posts in the following thread from members in San Antonio (iamjv) and New Braunfels (NBTX11).

 

I've seen some nice looking Butias here in San Antonio but I think they only look good if you take care of them.  There's a nice one right in front of the SA Zoo but I also seen some really bad looking ones . 

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