Skirting the issue

Wednesday, February 2, 2011


The palm Copernicia macroglossa bears round fronds that encircle the trunk with petioles so short they seem not to exist. There is no crown shaft, just a glorious head of leaves that gradually die and fall, but stay attached to the trunk. This skirt of old leaves is the

My petticoat palm, age 11.

source of its common name, petticoat palm or Cuban petticoat palm. Perhaps because it carries its fronds, both dead and alive, for such a long time, it is extraordinarily slow growing. Perhaps not. Several of the garden’s Copernicia macroglossa specimens are seen with the related Bailey palm (Copernicia baileyana) and some others in the genus at the south end of the Montgomery Palmetum. More specimens are down in the lowlands on the east side of Center Lake. One of them offers a tantalizing insider’s view of what’s beneath that petticoat. Here is a photo, in case you’ve ever wondered what it looks like from below. My own petticoat, now about 11 years old, has just

What lies beneath.

produced its first flower stalks, which are tentatively emerging between upper fronds. It’s extremely well adapted to our alkaline soils. And, outside of a well-intentioned landscaper who once decided to trim up the dead fronds, it seems to have no enemies.