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Featured Plant

September

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Scientific name: Phoenix roebelenii

Family: Arecaceae

Plant type: Palm, single or clustering trunks 

Environment: Sun to shade, moist, well-drained soil 

Bloom: White to yellow flowers with deep red center

Uses: Container or specimen plant

About

The pygmy date palm (Phoenix roebelenii) is a small palm native to southeast Asia. It is found growing along the Mekong River and other waterways in the region. Early observations of the species in the wild found that it always grew within 25 m of the water’s edge. As such, the species can be fully submerged in water when rivers are high, especially during rainy seasons. Phoenix roebelenii is one of the few rheophytic palms, meaning that it is able to withstand water currents and being submerged.

 

In the wild the pygmy date palm often grows as a cluster with multiple trunks, however, in cultivation it more commonly has a single stalk. Phoenix robelenii is dioecious, meaning that it has separate male and female plants.

The pygmy date palm was introduced to science in the late 1800s and named for the German orchid collector Carl Roebelen. It was introduced to horticulture in Europe soon after and quickly became a popular house plant. The species has remained popular and has even been proved to be beneficial for air quality. Studies have found that the pygmy date palm can remove toxins such as formaldehyde and benzene from the air.  

Individuals of Phoenix roebelenii can be seen at both the San Francisco Botanical Garden and the Conservatory of Flowers. The plants at SFBG are fairly recent additions to the collections of the Gardens of Golden Gate Park. The pygmy date palm at the Conservatory, however, dates back to the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition held in San Francisco. This individual even survived the damaging windstorms in the early 1990s. September 2023 marks the twentieth anniversary of the Conservatory re-opening to the public following its extensive restoration after those storms. Join us this month at the Conservatory to celebrate its history and see this popular palm species! 

Featured Plant Contributors: Text, profile, and photos Victoria Stewart

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