Friday, June 19, 2009

Jelly Palm

Jelly Palm Fruit

It's not a date, it's not a coconut, but it grows on a palm tree and it's edible. What is it? It's the jelly palm fruit, Butia capitata. When we first moved here five years ago, Gary said he wanted a palm tree. Gary loves palm trees. Gary loves surfing and Hawaiian shirts too. I guess Gary is just a tropical kind of a guy. Over the years I have shopped for Hawaiian shirts for Gary in my travels and he has quite a collection of them. Gary doesn't have a flamboyant personality, but he does love Hawaiian shirts.

Jelly Palm, Butia capitata

As I was planning our garden I tried to think of a palm tree I could plant that would satisfy Gary's need for that tropical feel and at the same would fit into the landscape. Most of the palm trees folks have planted around here are very tall and in my mind they look out of place. The natural landscape here is more mid sized with rounded tree crowns. The first palm that came to mind was the Cubean Royal palm, Roystonea regia. I remembered this palm from when I was a child living in Cuba. Yes, I lived in Cuba for two years, but that's a story for the future. The Cuban palm has to be the most beautiful palm in the world, but unfortunately it is very frost tender and so I didn't dare plant one here, much as I wanted to.

jelly palm flower stalk

As I was researching the various palm trees that will grow in this area, I came across the jelly palm. I was so happy to learn about this feather leaved palm because it was not only hardy (can withstand temperatures down to 15 F), beautiful and mid-sized, but it also produces fruit, an added bonus. So I set off to the nurseries to look for the elusive jelly palm. Low and behold at my local nursery I found one jelly palm tree, two feet tall with maybe four big fronds. I quickly loaded it up on my cart and took it home. Of course, you can't have just one palm tree since it would be lonesome, so I also got a Mediterranean fan palm, Chamaerops humulis, and a Windmill palm, Trachecarpus fortunei, two more mid sized palms.

jelly palm green fruit

Although California is full of palm trees, I've never grown a palm tree myself. So after I planted my palm trees I asked around to learn how to care for the trees. I learned from an expert at UC Berkeley Botanical Garden that palm trees recycle the nutrients from their decomposing leaves back into the tree. Which means the lower leaves of palm trees should not be cut off until they are completely dead. So I determined to leave my palm tree a little untidy for the sake of it's health. I asked someone in Texas how long it took for his tree to have fruit and he told me five years. That seemed like an awfully long time, but in the meantime the palm was pretty to look at.

jelly palm fronds

Palms actually need regular water to grow to optimum size. So for the first few years I watered the palm once a week during the summer and left it be. At the end of the third summer, I was watering the palm tree and I saw this long pod coming out of the center of the palm. I couldn't believe my eyes. My tiny palm tree, not even four foot tall yet, was putting on a flower. I worried because it was so late in the season and I didn't think there would be enough time for any fruit to mature. By November of that year I had a few fruits mature. The fruit is about an inch in diameter, has a large seed like a loquat, and if you pick it too early it is astringent like a persimmon. When the fruit is very ripe, though, they are very sweet and delicious. They taste like a banana, mango and pineapple all rolled into one tiny fruit.

The next year my jelly palm produced two pods with fruit. That year visitors to the garden were treated to tasting the fruit. Everyone was amazed at the wonderful flavor, especially children. Although there isn't much to each fruit, since they're tiny with a big seed, they're a real delicacy, almost like a candy. Since they're so small and sweet is probably the reason the juice is used to make jelly. I imagine when my tree is mature there will be enough fruit to make some jelly. This year my jelly palm is about seven feet tall and has three large bunches of fruit growing.

Sorry no clay photos this time, it turns out my illness developed into a bronchitis type cough and I have been coughing for four days (no I am not a smoker, never have been) which has me worn out. I am sick of being sick. Today is the first day I am not coughing as much and I have errands and other duties to attend to, but I have lots of inspiration stored up for future ceramics pieces, palm fronds might even inspire me. Have a good weekend and please leave comments or suggestions because I love hearing from you. Your comments keep me in good spirits when I am coughing up a storm.


  1. Seeing your palm reminded me of a story when I was in second grade... We lived in Encinitas, CA and had a Boston Terrier who had chased his thrown ball right, smack into a palm frond (sp?)! The pointy part pierced his eyeball (he recovered fully with eyesight intact) but to keep him from scratching the stitches the vet sewed a large white button over his eye!! When he slept he looked like a little stuffed dog!

  2. gosh, hope you feel better soon. I think the question of the could be, 'what does Linda Starr not have growing in her garden?' :) I just asked my mom, who has a green thumb if she knew what a jelly palm is. She said no. I do believe you though; what a beautiful plant. take care!

  3. p.s.. are the fruits tasty? Oh, I do want to hear the cuba story too.

  4. Hi Cindy, thank goodness your dog survived and didn't get an infection. Boston Terriers sure are cute and have the greatest dispositions. You have reminded me of a Boston Terrier which used to come to the playground every day when I was in the fourth grade in Maryland. That dog showed up at recess and lunch hour every day and ran and ran and ran and never got tired out. All the school kids would play with him and then he would go home. I don't think the owner ever had to exercise that dog. Not sure what he did in the summer though. Memories sure are grand.

    Hi Amy, thanks, I hope I get better soon. I just wonder why I have this bronchitis which is in my lungs. I am hoping I don't have Valley fever which is common in California. The test will take two weeks to come back.

    Tell your mom the jelly palm is also called the pindo palm and is native to Brazil. I took the photos in my garden. The first ripe fruit photo I took last summer. I think you are correct, what don't I have growing in my garden? And people are always bringing me plants too, since they know I love plants, so then I plant more.

    Amy, the fruits are very, very delicious, just like eating candy. The Cuba story will work it's way to the blog one of these days.

  5. I didn't know those were good to eat! I've seen a couple around town not knowing what they were. I'll have to "sample" one sometime. Are they ripe when they are yellow? Do they get soft, too? Hope that cough keeps going away.

  6. Gosh your palm makes mine look really puny. We have them here and they a groaning with fruit. I have a palm grown from a seed! It’s a Torquey Palm and very hardy it started life in England in 1998 and it is still only about 2 meters high. I brought it out here with the help of DEFRA in 2007, much to its amazement. It is in a pot so maybe I should pot it up to a bigger size, do they have bog root systems?
    I hope your cough gets better soon. Eat lots of honey.

  7. Gosh Linda,
    Get better, you aren't supposed to be sick in the summer when Gardening and ceramics calls. I hope you feel well soon! Love the palm story! Very cool indeed! Hey when you are testing glazes try waterfall brown, MC6G. it loves texture, really cool on plates or surfaces with shallow bowl and lip. I am having fun with this glaze.

  8. Hi Barbara, thanks, yes they must be real soft and kind of orangey yellow when they are ripe. It is said when the birds start eating them they are ripe.

    Hi Kitty, thanks, I just think they need regular water and then need to dry out between waterings, the problem with a pot is they dry out quicker and you have to water them more than they normally get. I will have to look up the Torquay palm - there are so many palms and many of them have medicinal properties - like the saw palmetto.

    Hi Mary, thanks, I saw your waterfall brown and it is really beautiful, you are really a glaze inspiration to me, thanks.

  9. Even though our state neighbors yours (how cool - we are neighbors!), the temperatures here make it impossible to grown palms. I enjoyed reading your post about them...didn't know that certain palms bore fruit. I'm going to see if I can get some from our local specialty market to try.

  10. Hi Julia, thanks, yeah we are neighbors, closer than many neighbors due to blogs. I was just wondering what the nutrient value of the jelly palm fruit are - not much info on them on the web.

  11. I'm just now catching up on my blogroll. Hopefully by now you are feeling better!

  12. Hi Jerry, thanks, I am feeling much better, still an occasional oough, but not like before.


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