Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Palms



Is a palm tree a tree? How do you define a tree? Some people think that if it is taller than they are, it must be a tree. Others think that if it doesn't branch, it isn't a tree. Whether the palm is a tree or not, it is a rather odd monocot, more closely related to grasses and lilies than to oaks and cherries.

Humans have used palms since forever! In the middle east, date palms were cultivated 5,000 years ago. These plants have been used for food, but they also provide many other products: rattan cane, raffia, carnauba wax and oil.

Coconut palms provide us with fruit used to make macaroons and coconut milk. In addition, palm wine can be made from the sap of this tree. To get the sap, a flower bunch is removed and a bucket is placed under the remaining stump. Because of yeast in the air, you can have wine within two hours! Wow!

It is a bit more difficult to get sap from a Chilean Wine Palm. The tree has to be cut down, and the top is pointed downhill. The leaves are removed to get the sap to flow from the trunk. To keep the sap flowing, razor thin layers are removed from the trunk every day. This worked fine for the indigenous peoples, but when the conquistadors arrived, they were greedy and destroyed whole forests. Now it is an endangered species. The good news is that this large, wide trunked palm loves bay area weather. Maybe you would like to plant one. Palms work especially well near a pool where you want a tropical look but don't want leaves clogging up the filter.

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