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Choice Palms

Articles: Choice Palms

Sonoran blue palm (Brahea armata var. clara) Photo: Kyle Wicomb

In the Philippines they say if you could count the stars then you could count all the ways the coconut tree serves us; this aphorism holds true for the usefulness of so many palms.

There is an old riddle that goes like this: if you drive a nail into the side of a tree five feet above the ground, and the tree grows one foot per year, how high off the ground will the nail be if you return in 20 years? Like many riddles, this one is a trick question. In 20 years the nail will still be five feet above the ground; in 200 years it will still be five feet above the ground. Trees only grow in height at their tips and outward at their trunks. Trunk tissue does not move upward with age.

The classic answer to this riddle was recently challenged in the pages of the May 2012 issue of the American Journal of Botany when researchers at Boston University discovered that the South American stilt palm (Iriartea deltoidea) has a trunk that actually moves upward as the tree gets older. As it turns out, tightly coiled fibers in the trunks of young palms expand ...

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