Okeechobee County Extension Service
Highway 98 North
This article was originally produced on April 4, 2001 as a bi-monthly news column for the
Vero Beach Press Journal
Daniel F. Culbert, County Extension Agent
A DATE WITH PALMS
If palm trees are symbolic of our sub-tropical climate, then date palms are
the plants for the dry times we are experiencing here in Florida. Yes - we have
had some much needed rain in the past week, but the potential for continued
drought may encourage Florida Yard owners to take a look at a group of palms
that are adapted to dry conditions - the date palms. Information for today’s
column comes to us from research conducted by former University of Florida
Extension Specialist Alan Meerow.
Date Palms all belong to the genus Phoenix. The genus name is Greek
for tender, but as far as palms go in Florida, these are among the most cold
tolerant palms found in out landscapes. Despite their common appearance in our
landscapes, they are not native to the New World, but instead hail from areas
ranging from Africa and Asia.
Almost all Date palms grown in Florida are drought tolerant species, which
makes sense if you image these plants in the Mediterranean-type climates that
they originate; think warm and dry, not hot and humid. Another climatic note is
that many of these palms will survive temperatures as low as 20o F.,
so they do well over most of the Florida peninsula. Their slow growth means they
can be long term fixtures in your Florida Yard, but will be expensive to
The physical characteristics of these plants can be used to distinguish them
from other palms. Landscape maintenance personnel often don’t like Date palms
because they are armed with large thorns at the base of their pinnate leaves,
which are feather-shaped fronds. When fronds fall off, or as is more likely the
case, are pruned off, they will leave a diamond-shaped scar on a dark brown
stem. They produce clusters of oval-shaped fruit that in the case of one
species, the Edible date, is cultivated as a fruit crop in desert-like climates.
Culture of the date palms is not unlike that of other tropical
ornamentals grown in our Florida yards with a few exceptions and reminders:
- First, these are by nature dry climate plants that will suffer if provided
with copious amounts of moisture. It amazes me to see people trying to use
fungicides to solve bud rot or foot rot problems of date problems that are
caused by directing sprinkler heads at water-hungry annuals planted in beds
under date palms. When you consider the price of a Impatiens plant (<
$1.00) to that of a specimen Canary Island Date palm ( $6000.00 or more),
wouldn’t it make sense to plant water loving flowers somewhere else?
- Maybe it’s the revenge of the lawn men, but there is a disturbing trend
towards over pruning palms in general and date palms in particular. Research
has shown that regular removal of date palm fronds that are not totally
brown will result in nutritional deficiencies. Palms need leaves to make
food to grow, and removing them prematurely will stress the plant. And,
there’s evidence that palm weevils are attracted to date palms that have
been heavily pruned.
- Palms need palm fertilizers, and sweet (alkaline) soils will encourage
yellowing and other stresses. Ask our Master Gardener volunteers about palm
deficiency symptoms, fertilizer rates and frequency, and soil pH testing.
Canary Island Date Palm
Senegal Date Palm
Pygmy Date Palm
Wild Date Palm
There are four common species of ornamental date palms commonly grown in
Florida, and a couple other that are un common, plus a number of hybrids between
these species that make life interesting for botanists and homeowners alike.
Here are some descriptions that highlight the attributes of the common species:
- Canary Island
(Phoenix canariensis) is highly prized for
its formal aspect in the landscape and for its cold hardiness. The leaf scar
pattern on the trunk is very ornamental. The 40-foot spread of Canary Island
dates mean ample room will be needed even when young. Extremely tough and
durable, this species endures dry conditions and poor soils. Watch for
yellowing which usually means magnesium deficiencies. Poorly drained sites
should be avoided and over-irrigation increases susceptibility to various
fungal diseases. Stressed plants are often invaded by palmetto weevils which
quickly destroy the irreplaceable 'heart.' Many Canary Island dates
including blue-green leafed specimens are actually hybrids of this and other
Phoenix species. At $100-240 per foot of clear trunk, expect
specimens to cost in the thousands of dollars.
- Senegal Date Palm (Phoenix reclinata) is the only date palm that
forms a clump. It suckers vigorously and a single unpruned plant can have
more than 20 stems. Senegal date palms hybridize readily with other date
species, so expect variation. It is valued as a specimen plant for accent,
but sufficient room is necessary both to allow for its natural (40 foot)
spread and to keep some distance from its dagger-like leaflet spines.
Senegal date looks best if trimmed up to reveal the slender, matted trunks.
A more open cluster can be achieved by selectively removing some of the
stems. If you want to see Florida’s Champion Senegal date Palm, plan to
visit McKee Botanical Gardens. Reclinata may cost little as $100 for a 10
foot tall clump, or as much as $5000 for a clump with 20 to 30 five-foot
- Pygmy Date Palm (Phoenix roebelinii) is one of the most widely used
date palms in the United States. It is single-trunked in nature, but
multiples are frequently produced planting three or more individual plants
together in the same container. This palm’s small stature (10 foot
maximum), slow rate of growth, ease of culture, and graceful crown have made
it a popular accent plant in tropical landscapes. It is the least drought
tolerant of the dates, but it is still handles our droughts and doesn’t
like excessive moisture. The crown requires occasional trimming of the
browned older leaves. Pygmy date palms are also one of the most adaptable
dates for container culture, though it does not hold up very well in dimly
lit interiors. A 3 - 4 foot tall "triple" goes for around $75.00
at the garden center.
- Edible or 'True' Date Palm (Phoenix dactylifera).
This palm is
becoming much more widely used in landscaping . "Female" palms
produce the fruit of commerce for several years, but as their productivity
declines, large specimens have become available from date groves in
California and Arizona for landscape purposes. They have a broad range of
environmental tolerance, but fruit poorly in the humid tropics and
subtropics. The canopy of date palm is often sparse in comparison to Canary
Island date. Because lethal yellowing disease is sometimes found here, their
selection should also be carefully considered as no variety is known to be
resistant. There are subtle differences among some of the named cultivars of
this palm which include Deglet Noor, Medjool and Zahidi. They will cost
several thousand dollars for specimen sized plants.
Date Palm (Phoenix sylvestris). The wild
date palm is an attractive landscape specimen with its
blue-green leaves, textured trunk, and yellow
inflorescences. Though slow growing, it can reach
heights of up to 50 feet and grows well in areas of the
United States where temperatures do not fall below
15°F. Leaves are pinnately compound and blue-green, and
they can grow to 10 feet in length. The canopy exhibits
a round shape and provides light shade. It will
show the best growth when it is planted in direct
sunlight. Wild date palm is drought tolerant and prefers
well-drained sandy soils, but it grows better when
regularly watered. This species is susceptible to lethal
yellowing. On older trees, aerial roots tend to be
present at the base of the trunk, and the clusters of 1
inch long fruit turn dark red to purple when mature.
For those persons who wish to find out more about how to take care of dates
and other palms, I recommend the Palm
Production and Culture website hosted by the UF/IFAS
Fort Lauderdale Research &
We also have a number of Extension bulletins on palm care and copies of some of
my previous articles on palms at our office, and can refer you to local members
of the various Florida Palm
If you need additional information on date palms, visit
your county Master Gardeners, or call or stop by your county Extension office.
For those with other questions about Florida Yards, contact me - my phone number
Culbert, Dan. see:
Indian Date Palm
in "More Plants for 2006." UF/IFAS
Okeechobee Extension Service, 01/2006. http://okeechobee.ifas.ufl.edu/News%20columns/2006%20Plants%20part%202.htm
Joe, Haynes*,Jody and Vendrame, Wagner. Phoenix
Palms for South Florida. UF/IFAS
Miami-Dade Extension Service, 2003. http://miami-dade.ifas.ufl.edu/old/programs/commorn/publications/Phoenix%20palms%20for%20S.%20FL..PDF
Garofalo*, Joe and
Vedaee, Jalil. Growing True Date Palms in South Florida.
UF/IFAS Miami-Dade Extension Service, 2002. http://miami-dade.ifas.ufl.edu/pdfs/ornamental/ornamental_publications/growing-true-dates-in-south-florida.pdf
Date Palm http://www.dipbot.unict.it/Palms/descr02.html
Date (fruit) In: Fruits of Warm Climates, 1987.
Available online at: http://www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/morton/date.html
to Dan Culbert's webpage
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Nick Place, Dean. Last update: 09/26/2012. This page is maintained by Dan