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A Floridata Plant Profile #241 Sabal domingensis
Common Names: Dominican palm, Hispaniola palm
Family: Arecacea/Palmae (palm Family)
Wallpaper Gallery (1 images)

Palm  Drought Tolerant Has Unusual or Interesting Foliage

Hispaniola palms
Stately Hispaniola palms guard the plaza in front of the visitor's center at Bok Tower Gardens, Lake Wales, FL.
Description
Sabal domingensis is a bigger burlier version of Florida's native cabbage palmetto (Sabal palmetto) to which it bears an otherwise close resemblance. The Hispaniola palm, as it is commonly called, has a single trunk that grows straight and erect to a height of 60 ft (18 m) and possibly taller. The trunk is massive, about 2 ft (60 cm) in diameter and usually with the upper several feet covered with interlaced leaf bases, left behind when the petioles break and the leaves fall. These eventually detach to reveal leaf scar rings upon the smooth light brown trunk.

Jack planted this Sabal domingensis 11 years ago out near his Catfish pond. It grew slowly for the first 6 years as it developed underground. Now it grows about 1 ft (30 cm) of trunk each year.
The crown is larger than that of S. palmetto and more open due to the larger leaves. The petioles (leaf stems) are about 5 - 6 ft (150 - 185 cm) and the leaves themselves are about 4 ft (125 cm) long. The costapalmate leaves (midway between a fan and feather leaf structure) are dull green and cut with deep incisions about halfway to the center dividing the leaf into segments. The tip of each segment is split in two, each becoming threadlike at the end. These droop toward the ground providing a graceful charm to an otherwise hefty appearance. Hispaniola palm leaves also have fibers hanging from the sinuses (indentations) that tend to persist throughout the life of the leaf, although with time they tend to twist and turn into a tangled ball.

The flower stalks are about 3 ft (91 cm) long and appear in spring and are held within the crown of leaves. Each stalk divides into numerous branches that hold the small, 0.25 in (8 cm) creamy white flowers. It is common for young palms to flower - even before they form a visible trunk. The black seeds are spherical, often flattened on the end and 0.5 - 0.75 in (15 - 23 cm) in diameter.

Location
This palm is native to the island of Hispaniola, a Caribbean island that is shared by the countries of the Dominican Republic and Haiti. There is is found growing on the dry, sandy lower slopes of the island's mountain range.

Culture
Hispaniola palm is easy to grow on most soils except those that are continually soggy. It has a preference for light sandy soils. Fertilize twice yearly in spring and summer for faster growth.
Light: Thrives in bright, sunny, exposed areas.
Moisture: Drought tolerant.
Hardiness: USDA Zones 9 - 10. May also be hardy in some parts of Zone 8. Jack's young palms have weathered 20º F (-6.6º C) with only minor leaf damage - and seem to be mostly resistant to the fungus diseases that strike after a hard freeze.
Propagation: This palm is easy to propagate from seed. Germination time is 2 to 6 months.

Jack with baby Sabal domingensis palms
The baby Sabal domingensis that Jack is holding is two years old and was grown from seed that was sown in August of 2000 (it germinated within 8 to 10 weeks). The planted palm was purchased at Fairchild Tropical Garden's annual palm sale in November of 2000. Unfortunately it had a tragic encounter with a lawn mower that set it back a bit - but in another 10 years will be the size of his largest specimen shown in the above picture.
Usage
Once established, the Hispanolia palm is a relatively fast grower if irrigated and fed. In my observation it takes about 8 to 10 years for this palm to "establish" before it begins to form a trunk, at which point the growth rate increases. Plant this palm on wide open lawns to serve as a focal point. Plant several together to form an airy grove. The light shade cast by these palms creates a pleasant environment for gardening or just relaxing on a hot summer day.

This palm is drought tolerant and is perfect for low maintenance landscapes. It combines beautifully with grasses (like gamma grass and sand spartina), yuccas (like bear grass and Spanish dagger), wax myrtle and other drought tolerant species. I find that Hispaniola palm provides a nice filtered sunlight that is useful for protecting perennials from midsummer's intense sunlight wilting and bleaching effects.

Mature Hispaniola palms are monumental in stature and make impressive sentinel plants for driveways and entrances. Their drought resistant durability and hulking handsomeness make them perfect for lining streets and avenues - I hope they are used more for this purpose.

Features
Sabal domingensis seems to be becoming more popular as a landscape item. In my opinion this is due to its resistance to cold, drought tolerance and strong but graceful good looks.

I purchased my Sabal domingensis about 12 years ago from a local nursery under the name Sabal umbraculifera which, as it happens, is incorrect. But, according to the reference Hortus Third, that name is a synonym for Sabal blackburniana which is itself a poorly understood and a "suspect" species. However the name S. blackburniana is often misused to indicate still another species, Sabal bermudana which is another of my favorite sabals. I grow this one too and it seems to be even more cold resistant than S. domingensis.

Now that I have you totally confused I want to mention still another stocky relative of our common cabbage palmetto (S. palmetto) which is the Texas palm S. mexicana. The Texas palm is also a highly desirable, drought tolerant palm. I enjoy all of these palms in my Zone 8 landscape and I'm certain that you'll like them too!

Jack Scheper 10/27/02; updated 5/21/04




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