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Normal abnormalities in palm trees

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Palm trees are without a doubt one of the most popular landscape plants used in Florida. After all, what is a Florida garden without a palm tree? The famous Carl Linnaeus, The Father of Modern Taxonomy, regarded palms as “Princes in The Landscape.” 

Here in Hernando County, UF/IFAS Extension Hernando County Master Gardeners receive many questions on palms. One common question we get in plant clinics is “Why are roots coming out of my palm tree?” “Is this normal?” The answer is yes. 

Palms are monocotyledons that have an adventitious root system. The roots evolve primarily from the stem tissue, as opposed to a larger root system. In seedlings, palm roots emerge in an area of the base called the root initiation zone. As the palm seed grows, the root initiation zone extends upward and outward. Roots that are exposed to soil or any other moist environment, continue to grow outward and downward in the soil where they function as roots. Roots that arise above the root initiation zone and are exposed to a drier environment, cease growing. If the environment becomes moist, then the roots will resume growing.  The root initiation zone usually arises no more than 6 to 12 inches up the palm. However, certain palm species such as date palms (Phoenix spp.), the root initiation zone can occur several feet up the trunk. Examples of palms that demonstrate this condition are Canary Island Date Palms, Pygmy Date Palms, Sylvester Palms, Wild Date Palms, Cabbage Palms and Washingtonia Palms. We usually see this condition after the palm has been established. This condition is a normal abnormality, meaning that this will not harm the palm at all.  

If you see this is on your palm, then do not worry. Do not try to cut the exposed roots off or pile dirt around the roots. This also does not mean your palm was planted too high. Do not be tempted to dig up the palm and plant it deeper within the soil. This may lead to a more serious problem. Another normal abnormality is trunk flare. This is most always seen along with the root initiation zone. Palm roots extend upward causing the bark to flare up, sometimes peeling off the trunk. Again, this is a normal part of the palms development. 

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For more information on other normal abnormalities of palm trees, please visit http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ep344. Need more help with your lawn or landscape? Contact our UF/IFAS Hernando County Master Gardeners. Stop by our office anytime between 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 a.m. at 16110 Aviation Loop, Brooksville. You can also call our office at (352) 754-4433 to speak to one of our Master Gardeners. Extension programs are open to all persons without regard to race, color, sex, age, disability, religion, or national origin.

Photos by Jim Davis

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