Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Manila Palm (Veitchia merrillii)


I am rather fond of the Manila Palm even though it is very common here in Hawaii.  If you have a small garden but still want that palm filled, tropical garden look, the Manila Palm is an easy choice to make.  It has a lovely mini coconut palm look without the hassle of dangerous coconuts falling or bulky dead fronds to dispose of.  The Manila grows to about 20 ft and has fronds that are about 6 ft long.  It also has the added beauty of its flowers and the resulting 1" long red skinned nuts that give the palm its other name of Christmas Palm.  The name Manila Palm will tell you what part of the world it is from, although it is not actually native to the Manila area of the Philippines but to the southern islands of Palawan and Danjugan and down into the Sabah area of Malaysia.



The Manila is an easy, trouble free palm.  Well ...except in Florida, where they are having problems with Lethal Yellowing disease.  Hopefully it does not come to Hawaii.  We have enough new bugs and diseases arriving here already.  The Manila Palm has flowers and fruit all year round.  The fruit do drop on the ground and some grounds crew workers like to trim off the flowers and fruit so they do not have to bother with raking them up.  I like seeing the red fruit and the birds and wild chickens like to eat the red skin off the nut.  Some of the dropped fruit will sprout and root but they are easy to pull up out of the ground while still small.

The tree is self cleaning, meaning that the dead fronds drop off the tree rather than clinging to the trunk and needing to be cut off.  Sometimes I do need to use my long breadfruit picking pole to hurry the dead leaf down because the base has caught in the flower fronds.  The Manila Palm like sunny, warm and humid weather...just like they have in their homeland.  I am extra fond of it because it does tolerate sandy soils and salt winds from the ocean although it would not be able to handle being right on the beach.

The Manila Palm does well in a container.  One plant or three together.  The height of the palm will be stunted somewhat depending on the size of the container.  It also does quite well inside as long as the room is well light.

To propagate palms I used to just put a few of the nuts in potting soil and they would sprout and grow.  These days I tend to just pull up a few mature self seeded nuts from under the mother palm. They will have grown about a foot in height.  I put them in a cup of water for a few hours to revive them and then plant them up in pots and leave them in a semi shaded area to grow new roots.  At about the two foot stage I transfer them into a three gallon size pot and fatten them  up some more before planting out in the garden.  Newly planted out young palms do tend to sit and rest for a year or two before they really start to shoot upwards.  Just keep them watered and give the occasional fertilizer.  Palms like a bit of extra magnesium too.


 Many years ago, we lived in a condo unit that had a lovely drive way lined on both sides by Manila Palms.  They really made a majestic entrance. The downside was all the kids in the condos throwing the nuts at each other and all over the place!  In my garden now, I have my oldest palm by the front entrance and three more on a front corner.  I grew all of them from seed so I feel rather motherly towards them.  The group of three are of various ages, the plan being to eventually have a nice grouping of Manila palms of various heights there among  shrubs.  One Manila Palm sitting in the lawn by itself looks a bit skinny and sad.  They really need the company of more palms or other plants.  Sometimes you will see groups of three and five Manila Palms grown tightly together.  I expect they started out in a container together.  If you live in Hawaii or a place of similar weather, start watching out for Manila Palms and notice how they are being used in the landscape in both home gardens and commercial spaces.

Aloha