Thursday, August 30, 2012

Pindo, the Perfect Palm

Our house is 162 years old, and all over the property there are ghostly vestiges of gardens. Sometimes these are just little arrangements of old bulbs (daffodils and summer snowflakes)—and sometimes they’re something bigger, better. When Rob and I moved in eight years ago, the yard on the south side was a jungle of invasive species, a tangle of wisteria, camphor, nandina, ardisia, and Old World climbing fern. It was a daunting mess, a wasteland, it seemed, but in the middle of it all we discovered two beautiful old pindo palms—grand and blue green, like glorious fountains.

It took us years to get around to clearing the invasives and liberating those poor palms. Sometimes I’d look out the dining room windows at them and feel sorry for them. I’d think of them as noble and tragic remnants of a lost civilization, Mayan temples forgotten in the jungle.

It wasn’t until 2010 that we finally got serious about getting rid of the invasives. We hacked and dug and mowed and clipped, and slowly the beautiful palms emerged. They were so big, so sculptural. When we were done with all the clearing, we decided to make them the backdrop for our new pond garden. There’s now a goldfish pond in their shade, and around the pond there are ferns and coonties and limestone rocks and fancy benches and a sad statue of an owl. . . .

Pindo palm (Butia capitata) isn’t native to Florida, but it isn’t invasive here, either; it stays in its place. Native to dry upland grasslands and savannas in Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay, it’s cold hardy and drought tolerant. It grows slowly to a height of about 15 feet and is usually about as wide as it is tall. It grows best in full sun to part shade, though my pindos seem to be doing just fine in pretty heavy shade.

Blooms come in late spring. The yellow to reddish 4-foot flower stalks remind me of giant celosias or huge (but rather sparse) feather dusters. The flowers are interesting, but they’re not the main attraction. No, what makes this palm special are the flamboyant, arching feathery fronds, which can grow up to 10 feet long. Their unusual soft, cool blue-gray color really stands out in the garden.

Oh, here’s a neat thing: I found out recently that the fruits are edible. I always thought they looked delicious—date-size and hanging in enormous, heavy, tempting clusters. They ripen to a bright yellow-orange in early summer. They’re juicy and quite fibrous, and they have a tropical, pineapple-y taste, supposedly. Because they’re so fibrous they’re not too good for eating out of hand, I've heard, but they're great in jams and jellies.

Rob sitting by the pond under the pindo palms. (Sorry I couldn't get both of the palms in the picture.)


  1. I never could understand why Pindo palms aren't more popular. Their silver color and the fact that they don't grow real tall is especially nice. I also love the way they have a tendency to lean a bit...just like yours.

  2. Yes, the leaning does make them more interesting! And the color is so pretty.