The Robust Texas Palmetto

One of my favorite palms is the Texas palmetto, sometimes called the Oaxacan palmetto, with the botanical name Sabal mexicana. It is native in extreme Southern Texas and across the border in Mexico. In my opinion, they look like Sabal palmettos on steroids and they do have some significant differences. Their overall size is impressive in person. The trunks are much bigger in diameter and they typically have longer petioles, larger fronds, and larger seeds. Their crown size, when full, can take up most of a small yard. I find that the only problem these palms have is that they are under-planted.

One can find their close cousins Sabal palmettos all over the Southeast, but spotting a Texas palmetto is always fun because they are so uncommon. These palms also happen to be quite hardy as I have discovered over the years. They are hardy to zone 8a, said to be perhaps only a touch less hardy than Sabal palmettos. Once in a while I see them for sale as small plants in Memphis and have thought about getting one myself. Either the prices have been prohibitively expensive or the palms themselves have been neglected. One of these days, I’ll get a good one to try out. Luckily for the purposes of this website, someone else has taken the plunge and is actively testing the ability of Texas palmettos to survive and thrive in Memphis TN.

A store in Northeast Memphis on Highway 64 planted a huge number of palms. I counted 18 or 19 windmill palms and much to my excitement, five Texas palmettos.

In spite of not being established at all, the Texas palmettos very surprisingly made it through January and February in 2015 which were absolutely brutal. 2015 had the third coldest February in Memphis weather history. With their close relatives, Sabal palmettos, it’s usually almost a guarantee that recently transplanted specimens will die in their first winter if they experience the kinds of temperatures that Memphis had. By late March and early April, I was wondering about a couple of the smaller ones, but as of late May 2015, all five palms are pushing out new growth. The second picture is a bad angle, but I saw that the new spear on the shorter palmetto is green.

Below, another pair is obviously growing well. It is notable that the larger the palm, the more energy reserves they have stored in the trunk to be able to regenerate roots and new foliage.

And lastly, this Texas palmetto is in the middle and will be quite the looker when it has regrown a full crown. In just a month or so, it pushed out a foot of growth. By mid to late summer, I expect several new fronds to have emerged provided we get a decent amount of rain coupled with the standard Memphis summer heat.

After seeing what these palms were able to handle in a totally unestablished, newly transplanted situation, I have very high expectations for their longevity where they are. Once established, an occasional dip to upper single digits every few years should not kill these palms. Should everyone in Memphis go get a large Texas palmetto to try out? I would say start with something a bit easier. But if money is no object and a bold statement needs to be made, the mighty and robust Texas palmetto is a way to do it.

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