Common Names: Dominican palm, Hispaniola palm
Family: Arecacea/Palmae (palm Family)
Palm Drought Tolerant Has Unusual or Interesting Foliage
Sabal domingensis is a bigger burlier version of Florida's native
cabbage palmetto (Sabal palmetto) to which it bears an otherwise
close resemblance. The Hispaniola palm, as it is commonly called,
has a single trunk that grows straight and erect to a height of 60
ft (18 m) and possibly taller. The trunk is massive, about 2 ft (60
cm) in diameter and usually with the upper several feet covered with
interlaced leaf bases, left behind when the petioles break and the
leaves fall. These eventually detach to reveal leaf scar rings upon
the smooth light brown trunk.
Jack planted this Sabal domingensis 11 years ago out near his
Catfish pond. It grew slowly for the first 6 years as it developed
underground. Now it grows about 1 ft (30 cm) of trunk each year.
The crown is larger than that of S. palmetto and more open due to
the larger leaves. The petioles (leaf stems) are about 5 - 6 ft (150
- 185 cm) and the leaves themselves are about 4 ft (125 cm) long.
The costapalmate leaves (midway between a fan and feather leaf
structure) are dull green and cut with deep incisions about halfway
to the center dividing the leaf into segments. The tip of each
segment is split in two, each becoming threadlike at the end. These
droop toward the ground providing a graceful charm to an otherwise
hefty appearance. Hispaniola palm leaves also have fibers hanging
from the sinuses (indentations) that tend to persist throughout the
life of the leaf, although with time they tend to twist and turn
into a tangled ball.
The flower stalks are about 3 ft (91 cm) long and appear in
spring and are held within the crown of leaves. Each stalk divides
into numerous branches that hold the small, 0.25 in (8 cm) creamy
white flowers. It is common for young palms to flower - even before
they form a visible trunk. The black seeds are spherical, often
flattened on the end and 0.5 - 0.75 in (15 - 23 cm) in diameter.
This palm is native to the island of Hispaniola, a Caribbean island
that is shared by the countries of the Dominican Republic and Haiti.
There is is found growing on the dry, sandy lower slopes of the
island's mountain range.
Hispaniola palm is easy to grow on most soils except those that are
continually soggy. It has a preference for light sandy soils.
Fertilize twice yearly in spring and summer for faster growth.
Light: Thrives in bright, sunny, exposed areas.
Moisture: Drought tolerant.
Hardiness: USDA Zones 9 - 10. May also be hardy in some parts of
Zone 8. Jack's young palms have weathered 20º F (-6.6º C) with only
minor leaf damage - and seem to be mostly resistant to the fungus
diseases that strike after a hard freeze.
Propagation: This palm is easy to propagate from seed. Germination
time is 2 to 6 months.
Jack with baby Sabal domingensis palms
The baby Sabal domingensis that Jack is holding is two years old and
was grown from seed that was sown in August of 2000 (it germinated
within 8 to 10 weeks). The planted palm was purchased at Fairchild
Tropical Garden's annual palm sale in November of 2000.
Unfortunately it had a tragic encounter with a lawn mower that set
it back a bit - but in another 10 years will be the size of his
largest specimen shown in the above picture.
Once established, the Hispanolia palm is a relatively fast grower if
irrigated and fed. In my observation it takes about 8 to 10 years
for this palm to "establish" before it begins to form a trunk, at
which point the growth rate increases. Plant this palm on wide open
lawns to serve as a focal point. Plant several together to form an
airy grove. The light shade cast by these palms creates a pleasant
environment for gardening or just relaxing on a hot summer day.
This palm is drought tolerant and is perfect for low maintenance
landscapes. It combines beautifully with grasses (like gamma grass
and sand spartina), yuccas (like bear grass and Spanish dagger), wax
myrtle and other drought tolerant species. I find that Hispaniola
palm provides a nice filtered sunlight that is useful for protecting
perennials from midsummer's intense sunlight wilting and bleaching
Mature Hispaniola palms are monumental in stature and make
impressive sentinel plants for driveways and entrances. Their
drought resistant durability and hulking handsomeness make them
perfect for lining streets and avenues - I hope they are used more
for this purpose.
Sabal domingensis seems to be becoming more popular as a landscape
item. In my opinion this is due to its resistance to cold, drought
tolerance and strong but graceful good looks.
I purchased my Sabal domingensis about 12 years ago from a local
nursery under the name Sabal umbraculifera which, as it happens, is
incorrect. But, according to the reference Hortus Third, that name
is a synonym for Sabal blackburniana which is itself a poorly
understood and a "suspect" species. However the name S.
blackburniana is often misused to indicate still another species,
Sabal bermudana which is another of my favorite sabals. I grow this
one too and it seems to be even more cold resistant than S.
Now that I have you totally confused I want to mention still
another stocky relative of our common cabbage palmetto (S. palmetto)
which is the Texas palm S. mexicana. The Texas palm is also a highly
desirable, drought tolerant palm. I enjoy all of these palms in my
Zone 8 landscape and I'm certain that you'll like them too!