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Articles > Allagoptera arenaria

1 Oct 2006


Allagoptera arenaria, but it doesn’t look like a palm      


When I first started looking at palms, I was invited by Walt Frey of San Clemente to visit him and see his garden. Incredible! Of course, Walt had grown palms for many years and had one of the nicest palm gardens in southern California. It was there that one palm (but it didn’t look like a palm) caught my eye. When I was growing up in Indiana, an important event was getting ribbon candy at Christmas. Now, if you don’t remember, or perhaps never had this treat, it is a wide ribbon of hard candy that has silver edges and is twisted in various shapes. The Allagoptera arenaria is so very close in appearance that it will bring back memories. It doesn’t have a trunk, but has many small stems that emerge from the ground and then twist every which way. The bottom of the leaves is silver and the top is a dark matte green with a distinctive center stripe that accents the leaf, like ribbon candy. Now, it will stop visitors in their tracks because they will be curious, and they’ll ask, “What kind of plant is this?” Walt’s plant by now is 20 years old, but it is still not large, just bushy — something that is very unusual in the palm world. It was first planted back in 1978 in Laguna Niguel where it achieved most of its growth. Surprisingly, he dug it up without any repercussions even though it is a subterranean dichotomous brancher. It now sports three heads that are 3-4 inches in diameter with a 6-foot spread. As his palms have matured they unfortunately are providing a little too much canopy for this palm and he thinks it would be a faster grower with more sun.
I planted mine as a small 5-gallon in late 1997, so that’s eight and a half years to become only 30 inches tall and about as wide. That’s very slow growth! It is as bulletproof as the Butia capitata, both originating in Brazil. From the looks of this palm after every cold snap and Santa Ana (it is perfect, no lie), its habitat must be much more harsh than here in southern California. This is THE palm to fit in a special spot — mine is placed squarely between two cypress trees and it looks very good. Any trunking palm would have been out of place there. Why plant a bush when you can plant a bushy palm?



Allagoptera arenaria

David Minks