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Queen Palms Don't Rule in Florida
by Ginny Stibolt

No doubt the common name for the queen palm (Syagrus romanzoffiana) arises from the regal appearance of a healthy specimen with its long feathery fronds that droop in a graceful arch. They are readily available from big box stores and nurseries all over Florida, but why? There are definite problems with this palm in Florida's landscapes.

Queen palms in central Florida suffering from cold damage.  Photo by StiboltThey are Not Cold Tolerant:

From Brazil and neighboring South American countries, the queen palm is tropical in nature and is killed when temperatures fall below 25 degrees Fahrenheit, as so many folks living in northern Florida and some of central Florida discovered this winter. Our sustained cold snap in January and a shorter one in February killed most of the queen palms. Even in central Florida, many queens bit the dust. You can trim back dead leaves and wait to see if there is any new growth in the next month or so. As with any palm, if the growing tip has been damaged, it's dead. So don't expect to find new growth from the stump.

They are Not Wind Resistant:

Since 1992 when Andrew struck, and during subsequent hurricane-rich years such as 2004 with its four hurricanes (Bonny . Charlie, Frances and Jeanne), careful analysis of the trees that were felled by the winds showed that the queen palm was on the list of the trees most vulnerable to wind damage. It was the one of two palms on the list--the other is Mexican fan palm (Washingtonia robusta). Most palms have excellent wind resistance because of their fibrous nature--they don't have annual rings and stiff wood like other trees.

They are Not Drought Tolerant:

Palms develop a whole new root system upon transplanting. Most homeowners (and many professional landscapers) do not water palms enough after planting and they fail to get a good start. (I provided irrigation needs and other details in my article: Trees and Shrubs: the "Bones" of Your Landscape.) Even after establishment, many queen palms have a hard time adjusting to our 7-month long dry seasons. As a result, many of these palms are likely to struggle and then have shortened life spans. This is not a pretty sight as the fronds die off quickly.

They are Invasive in Central and Southern Florida:

The queen palm produces prodigious numbers of seeds, which make a smelly mess in the landscape. All those seeds germinate at a high enough rate that queen palms are on invasive plant list II for Florida--they have negatively altered some of Florida's wild spaces with the potential to become widely invasive. 

Find Something Better to Replace your Dead Queens:

So as you begin to work on your cold damaged landscape, don't just replant the same trees that have failed; find more sustainable alternatives.  Our native cabbage palm (Sabal palmetto) is an excellent choice and is available planted in your yard at a fairly low price.  Also, across Florida there are dozens of garden fests this spring, so you should be able to find one not too far away.  Do your research in these pleasant and fact-filled settings, and find some replacements for the dead queens in your landscape that will thrive in our climate and not threaten Florida's wild spaces.  In northeast Florida there are two opportunities to find excellent native trees and shrubs. On March 6th, Duval County Extension Service and others are putting on "A Day of Gardening" (You need to register by March 2nd and it costs $10, which includes lunch and presentations.) On Amelia Island on March 6th and March 7th, the first Amelia Island Garden Show will have a wide variety of vendors and speakers on both days. There is no charge for this event. (Full disclosure: I will be at this festival with James Loper in his Reflections of Nature's booth. So stop on by.) 

University of Florida/Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) have analyzed the trees that stood and those that fell:
Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council has placed the queen palm on its II Florida invasive list:

Ginny Stibolt would like to hear from readers who have suggestions and questions. After all, there are more than a few transplanted gardeners here in northeast Florida trying to figure out what works and what doesn't in planting zone 8/9. She's written a book, "Sustainable Gardening for Florida," published by University Press of Florida.

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