By Gracie Bagosy-Young.
My dad took me to Hawaii in 8th grade. I was so fascinated with the palm trees that he took my picture in front of seemingly each one I saw, because it was my “favorite one.” I was sure that I could grow one in my bedroom in Illinois, so I smuggled two small coconuts through airport security. I won’t mention where, but I will tell you that if security has searched an 8th grader there, my dad would have knocked them out! Times were different then, and there was no TSA.
I got those baby coconuts to Illinois where I promptly planted them in pots in my bedroom, and they did not grow…of course! Through the years my dad fostered my love of palm trees, purchasing me trinkets and such. He even got me a 5 ft purple cardboard palm for Christmas one year. How I wish I had those things still now that he has passed.
I spent some time in Florida this winter hiding from the cold. Florida during the winter is very kind to CRPS. In speaking to a woman that respect very deeply, she said to me, “It makes sense that you love the palm trees.” Intrigued, I asked what that meant. She went on to explain, and I learned with complete fascination, and a few tears.
Palm trees are built to withstand the strongest of storms. While all of the other trees snap in the deadly hurricanes, the palm trees bend and even become stronger! A little research provided more insight: The trunk of a pine or oak tree grows in a radial pattern; the annual rings effectively make a series of hollow cylinders inside each other. Meanwhile, the stem of a palm tree is made of many small bundles of woody material, which likens to the bundles of wires inside a telephone cable. (TreeHugger). This hit me immediately! Be flexible. Bend but don’t break. Let those storms in your life toss you around a bit, but always come out stronger. Be made of the good stuff! I was starting to hear my dad in her.
Another point of interest to me is the palm leaves themselves. Unlike most trees, palms don’t bother with spindly branches. Instead, they produce a canopy of large leaves supported by a flexible midrib. These act sort of like large feathers, allowing their canopy to readily shed water and bend against even the strongest winds. Although their leaves will snap if buffeted hard enough, palm canopies accrue considerably less damage under such conditions. Another adaptation exhibited by palm leaves is their ability to fold up like a paper fan. This reduces their otherwise large surface area against powerful winds. (InDefenseofPlants) In a world full of competition and a quest to look forever young, I loved this as well. There is no need for big fancy branches and leaves. Minimal is beautiful and key for survival.
And finally, the most intriguing point was this: palm trees have rather dense roots. They sacrifice size for quantity. Instead of a few large roots anchored into the soil, palms produce a multitude of smaller roots that spread out into the upper layers of the soil. This is especially useful when growing in sand. By increasing the number of roots they put down, palms are able to hold on to a larger volume of soil and therefore possess a much heavier base. This keeps them stranding upright in all but the worst conditions. (InDefenseofPlants) Wow, this brought on the tears! We need a support community! No one can go at it alone! This “more is better” theory keeps us grounded and standing tall.
In one very brief conversation, my love and respect for these beautiful trees and changed and deepened. May we all be like the palm trees!
Gracie Bagosy-Young is a chronic pain activist.