The Phoenix sylvestris, also known as the wild date palm, or, more commonly, the Sylvester palm, is a strikingly magnificent palm relatively new to our area in comparison to the Canary Island Date Palm (pineapple palm) . The blue-green fronds and attractive patterned trunk make this palm particularly special. Sylvester palms are often planted at entrances and gateways to housing developments or high-end commercial properties. You may have already seen one and pondered on the palm’s true identity.
The Sylvester palm is native to India where it is tapped as a source of sugar and, as such, is sometimes called the sugar date palm or toddy palm. Slowly growing upwards to fifty-feet tall, with dense fronds up to ten feet long, the attractive golden trunks of the Sylvester palm are patterned with triangular to diamond-shaped leaf scars. Mature specimens produce colorful clusters of orange fruit. Beware the fronds as, like many other Phoenix palms, they are armed with very sharp spines.
Sylvester palms are fully hardy in our area and are noted for taking temperatures as low as fifteen degrees F. Plant Sylvester palms in full sun in well-drained sandy soils. After establishment, this palm is considered drought-tolerant, but will still appreciate some occasional watering.
One concern to be mindful of is a new disease called Texas Phoenix Palm Decline or TPPD. This disease has been found in a number of Phoenix palms including the Canary Island date palm, the edible date palm, and the Sylvester palm. Texas Phoenix Palm Decline has also been found in our native Sabal palms and queen palms, but only once in the Pygmy date palm, and once in the mule palm. While this problem has been documented in Charlotte County, I have not seen a case as yet. I do however hear of TPPD occurring much more frequently north of us and to the west. For more information, please see this publication - https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pp163 - Texas Phoenix Palm Decline.
While most Sylvester palms are available as mature specimens, on occasion you may find some smaller individuals in containers at garden centers and nurseries. I received mine as a two-gallon plant which in ten years has grown to about ten feet tall with not much of a trunk at this point.
The Sylvester palm is a beautiful landscape subject that you will want for your own yard. In the meantime, as you daydream about it, simply admire one from afar! For more information on all types of Phoenix palms suitable for our area, please call our Master Gardener volunteers on the Plant Lifeline on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 1 to 4 pm at 764-4340 for gardening help and insight into their role as an Extension volunteer. Don't forget to visit our other County Plant Clinics in the area. Please check this link for a complete list of site locations, dates and times - http://charlotte.ifas.ufl.edu/horticulture/Plant%20Clinics%20Schedule.pdf.
Northrop, R. J., Andreu, M. G., Friedman, M. H. McKenzie, M. & Quintana, H. V. (2013) Phoenix sylvestris, Wild Date Palm. The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS.
Culbert, D. F. (2001) Make a Date With Palms. The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS – Okeechobee County.
Phoenix sylvestris. (2015) Wikipedia.