Palms have become part of landscaping for their style of growth, life expectancy, and their availability in various colours, shapes, sizes and patterns, writes M.M. Hussain

Who does not love the idea of palm groves, and not be reminded of the fertility they denote with special reference to Konaseema or Kerala?

Growing aloft, occupying corner spaces in a court yard which they beautify to any extent, palms are still the most misunderstood species in the Indian sub-tropics. Till recently, gardeners shied away from growing them with the misconception that they are difficult and slow.

However, they are now recognised as the most important plants in landscaping, and in their very many shapes, are integral to tropical plants. Contrary to what people think, they are also very hardy and easy to grow.

In the last few years, many professionals and amateurs fell in love with palms for their style of growth, their life expectancy, and their availability in various colours, shapes, sizes and patterns.

In large landscapes, palms are grown in groups and can be either bushy with stems and suckers, or solitary.

Palms like any other tropical plant, are essentially sun-loving, though some species can be grown in shade as well.

There are some palms which have to be grown in ground, so also some others which can be grown in pots as well. Mainly multiplied by seeds, these trees, in some suckering varieties, can also be multiplied by removing offshoots. Though those to be germinated by seeds are often sown when they are fresh, in some cases, the seeds can be stored for a long time before planting. Advice from a horticulturist with good experience and knowledge can be obtained if in a fix.

Varieties

Palms have been an important part of the Indian landscapes of the past. One could easily spot the palm varieties such as Pritchardia pacifica (Pritchardia palm), Livistona chinensis (China palm), Livistona rotundifolia (Table palm), Pritchardia grandis (Licuala grandis), Roystonea regia (Royal palm), and Washingtonia filifera (Washingtonia palm). These, with few other species, have been very popular amongst palms in the bygone era.

But later on there was an influx of exotic species, and it took even longer for these varieties to become popular, as the time required for multiplication and acclimatisation was relatively more. And in the later stages people began to import seeds from various countries like Mauritius, Madagascar, Indonesia, and Africa. This abundance in varieties has made palms very popular in the last ten years.

While palms are generally understood as trees with extraordinary heights, it is not always true.

There are species which can be grown in pots, as also indoors. Varieties such as Pritchardia pacifica (Pitchardia palm), Licuala grandis (Pitchardia grandis), Livistona chinensis (China palm), Livistona rotundifolia (Table Palm), Rhapis excelsa, Rhapis excelsa dwarf, Rhapis excelsa variegata (Many cultivars), Areca lutescens (Chrysalidocarpus lutescens, latest name being - Dypsis lutescens - a suckering palm), Chamaedorea elegans, Chamaedorea metallica, Phoenix roebelenii (A Dwarf Variety), Howea forsteriana (Kentia palm - a suckering palm), Chamaerops humilis (suckering), Caryota mitis (suckering), Licuala spinosa (suckering), Chamaedorea costaricana (Bamboo like or Cane like palm), and Thrinax parviflora are grown in pots. Areca lutescens, Rhapis, Chaemadoreas, Kentia palms and Seaforthia elegans are very good for indoors, whereas the other species have to be outdoors in abundant sunlight.

The species suitable for avenue plantation are Roystonea regia (Royal palm), Caryota urens (Fish Tail palm), Archontophoenix alexandrae (King palm), Dypsis decaryi (Triangular palm), Mascarena verschaffeltii (Black triangular palm), and Wodyetia bifurcata (Fox tail palm) among others.

(About more varieties in palms next week)

(The author is a well-known nurseryman in Hyderabad, and can be contacted at ‘plantsland@hotmail.com')