Manila Palm

2012 I Planted Roots in Mexico Nature September 2012 Tommy Clarkson

By Tommy Clarkson from the September 2012 Edition

Veitchia Merrillii
Family: Arecaceae
(Also known as a Christmas Palm, Adonidia or Dwarf Royal Palm)

This happy little palm is attractive, well proportioned, neat appearing, and nicely symmetrical. It sports dark green, feather leafed fronds and is a moderately fast grower. It can be planted as a solitary palm or effectively used in doubles or triples.

One of 18 pinnate-leaved palms in this family, it can be found in the area of Vanuatu, Fiji, Tonga, New Caledonia and the Philippines. Growing to five to ten meters – if in well drained soil with average watering – it is an ideal tree for less spacious areas or use in large containers. It is well suited for patios or terraces and is often used to line walkways, driveways or even public boulevards.

It is rather easy to grow, quite trouble free and will tolerate a degree of neglect – but is most appreciative of monthly fertilization. Drought and salt tolerant, it will not, however, survive frost – hence zones 10 B (with temperature not below 35 degrees Fahrenheit) to zone 11. Young plants may prefer slight shade and are susceptible to scale.

As it grows, it prefers mid level to bright sunshine but can be used as a house plant. In these often shadier conditions, its frond crown, seeming to understand the constraints of interior living, will restrain its growth to less than its outside potential. But be advised, if its pot home is of inferior quality, this palm may just crack it apart in its attempt to grow.

Its handsome, closely ringed trunk is slightly swollen at the base. Slender, it can grow to approximately ten inches in diameter, is light to dark grey and smooth to slightly rough. With a nice looking, lime green, two to three foot crown shaft, its canopy consists of around ten to fifteen stiffly arched fronds which are five to six feet long in maturity. These, in turn, consist of 40-60 jagged tipped, two inch wide leaflets, two feet long and two feet wide, that are held on several planes closer to the base. Higher up these are in a striking V pattern. It requires little pruning as dead fronds will fall off as the tree grows.

From small, white, yellow or butter-cream flowers that form below the two to three foot crown shaft, this pretty palm sports clusters of oval shaped, one inch in size, green fruits that, upon maturation, turn a beautiful crimson red color. This change is often around Christmas time, hence, one of the names by which it is known. However, these drupes (one seeded palm fruits, that are fleshy in nature, but do not open once mature) may appear at other times during the fall or winter as well. The bright red seeds can be irritating to the skin, so, as a precaution, it is suggested that gloves be worn when handling.

This tropical tree is rather easily transplantable when young. However, palm purists may prefer to create new life via the seeds which germinate rapidly, in one to three months.

Frustratingly, in areas where it is a problem, one should be aware that this attractive tree is quite susceptible to the incurable disease of lethal yellowing.

And, its seeds may be used as a Betelnut substitute for those with that proclivity!

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