Palm tree saxophones

When the sea first exposes the roots of sabal palms, a fuzz of sand-gripping tentacles wiggles in the air:

rootspalmThen, after the tree has been felled by beach erosion, the roots are snapped and abraded, revealing the butt of the palm trunk. This haircut reveals a curious structure at the very bottom of the former root ball, a curved trumpet of hard wood. The horn is narrow at the side, then widens as it twists upward into the center of the root mass:

palmbuttpalmbutt2These curved oddities are the remains of the palms’ first few months of growth. Unlike every other tree that I know of (other examples are welcome!), the palm germinates then grows down into the soil for up to half a meter. It then turns up its growing tip and sends young fronds to the surface. This burrowing infancy takes the sensitive growing tip down where it is less vulnerable to fire, drought, and herbivores. Botanists call the growth form a “saxophone”: a narrow down-pointing neck that splays as it curves back up.

The first toot of the sax:

seedling palmPracticing riffs. Young sabal palms stay at ground level for decades, building a wide enough base from which the trunk will launch:

youngpalmA mature palm, playing percussion in the wind, the early saxophone days buried in its roots:

sabal palm


5 thoughts on “Palm tree saxophones

    1. David George Haskell Post author

      That would be very cool to see. It might ruin your blades, though: palm secretes serious loads of silicates to strengthen tissues. So some tissues are very abrasive (others are softer — e.g., in the trunk center). They destroy the fine blades of microtome machines (used for prepping microscope slides).


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