Fan Dance


How, why, or even if the blades of this dwarf palmetto leaf had been trimmed by a human hand was impossible to say.

Tucked away in the depths of a local nature center, far from any path and obviously outside the areas where landscaping crews sometimes work, the Sabal minor leaf seemed mysterious and improbable. Anyone who decided to clip its normally pointed tips, even as a joke, would have had to stand ankle deep in mud, and palmettos are tough plants — cutting the tips so evenly would have been difficult at best.

Whatever the explanation — natural variation or attempted art — I like the graceful curve of the blades against the sky. They help to transform the leaf into a very fancy fan, indeed — albeit one poorly suited for easing summer heat.


Comments always are welcome.


41 thoughts on “Fan Dance

  1. Nature is funny. I have marigolds scattered around the small flower/tree bed and I’ve never had anything bother them – until recently. As soon as it gets close to buds blooming, something cuts the tops off, straight as an arrow. This has happened 3 times now. Truth is stranger than fiction – even in the plant world I suppose.

    1. I’ve heard other people talk about such strange “cuttings” affecting their plants. Sometimes they find the culprit, and sometimes not, but it’s always perplexing. It’s especially odd with marigolds, which I thought were resistant to nearly everything.

      I’d assumed that damage from insects or other critters wasn’t likely with the palmettos. On the other hand, it’s occurred to me that when the plant was young, small, and more tender, something could have nibbled on it then, leaving the mysteriously trimmed leaves to grow with the plant. There are other palmettos nearby; I’ll have to stop by and see if any of them get a haircut.

    1. Knowing that the weekend was going to be rained out, I went over to the closest nature center just to see what I could see. There wasn’t much that wasn’t at least a little bedraggled — the flowers have faded and the berries are only beginning to ripen — but this little bit of ‘sculpture’ appealed to me. I wished I could have gotten closer, to see the ends of those blades, but I didn’t have my machete with me, so this had to do.

      I do like that arc. Now, as long as we don’t end up needing an ark, all will be well.

  2. I find nature a weird and wonderful thing, but I do suspect the human hand has some influence too.

    Hard to say if the Palmetto has naturally straight edges or has been trimmed a little by a pair of scissors :)

    1. I know where there are more approachable palmettos; a curious human with a pair of scissors could do a quick experiment to see just how trimmable those ends are. It has occurred to me that the ends might have been trimmed while the plant was young, low to the ground, and far more tender. As it grew into what I saw yesterday, the ends would have remained the same.

      While it’s hard to believe an insect or critter could have done such a neat job, the other side of it is that I don’t know anyone who would spend the time to trim the leaf up in such a way. On the other hand, I used to roam the Texas hill country hanging limestone rocks with holes in them on tree limbs. As the saying goes, there’s just no accountin’ for folks.

    1. It did cross my mind that a midnight trip to the palmetto grove might be in order on the next full moon. There might be wood nymphs out there cavorting in the moonlight!

      I do need to pay more attention to the palmettos, and see if I can find more that seem to have been trimmed. We have a state park that’s filled with these plants. Sending some photos to one of the park rangers would be an option, as well as a consult with some of our local plant experts — that is, if I really wanted to know. I rather like the air of mystery.

  3. I can’t imagine, either, why someone did that, but I agree with you about the effect. A great picture, Linda, as far as composition goes.
    Have a wonderful Sunday,

    1. For me, the composition’s the thing, even though I can’t stop myself from being curious about the whys and wherefores of that neatly trimmed edge. It’s certainly fun to speculate, even though a firm answer’s impossible. I’m glad you enjoyed the photo, Pit.

  4. more more more! give us more images of that interesting and artfully-sculpted leaf!

    I’m guessing that when it was very young and just emerging, an insect nipped it – or down here a machete – and gave it a bob… it’s very orderly and pleasant…

    1. If this had been growing near a path or as part of a formal planting, I would have glanced and said, “They trimmed this one to keep it from bothering people.” But it was well beyond the path, behind a bird blind, down a bank, in a tangle of trees, vines, and alligator weed, growing in an area that clearly wasn’t meant for visitors.

      We could speculate until the geckos come home about how it took this form, but the leaf is what it is, and that’s good enough for me. Part of the reason it stood out was that very orderliness you mentioned. In the midst of that tangle of growth, it was quite a contrast.

  5. This is so interesting and a great find. Your photo is eye catching for sure. I have cut off the sharp and dangerous tips of some of the plants in my yard because I feared that my dogs would run into them and be injured especially their eyes. I have no idea about this one. Is there a botanist to ask?

    1. I know a woman who did damage to her own eye while working around an agave, and she did a good bit of tip-trimming soon after. Those plants can be dangerous.

      I did a little experiment this morning, and found that trimming a palmetto would be quite easy. If this one was trimmed, the real question is who trimmed it, and why. I don’t suppose even a botanist could answer that. What’s certain is that the result is pleasing, and being able to isolate the leaf really does show it off to good effect. I was delighted to find a way to capture its curve.

    1. However it happened, I was happy that it did. The palmettos can be very attractive, but due to their growth habits, they can be hard to photograph; there’s usually a tangle of other plant life around them, or their own fronds get in the way of one another. Being able to get somewhat below this one on a small hillside was a lucky break.

  6. I’ve seen similar leaves woven into fans — by folks wearing gloves, no doubt. Their edges can be rather sharp, too. It is puzzling how they’re all sheared off so evenly. Maybe they were munched by something while still unfurled.

    1. How about that? You sent me off to see if deer might browse palmettos. It seems they like the berries, but not the leaves. Everything likes the berries. If I happen to see some, I’d best take a photo right then, because in even a day they all can disappear.

      Your mention of baskets sent me on a search, and I found this Pinterest page. It’s interesting to see examples from Hawaii, Georgia, Sicily, New Zealand — everywhere there are palms, there’s weaving. There are some beautiful examples, too. In the third column from the left, third image down, look at those bowls.

  7. I think I’d prefer the pointy blades, but you’ve got a great picture anyway. Something about standing in all that gooey mud isn’t appealing to me!

    1. That mud is why I keep hiking boots and knee-highs in the trunk of my car at all times.You just never know when you’re going to need to wade into some kind of squoosy situation. Next time I go down there, I’ll wear my boots, but this time I didn’t want to risk getting rained on by taking the time to walk back to the car.

      They are a graceful plant, especially when their fronds are intact. One of these days I’ll make it to our Palmetto State Park, which is supposed to be a remarkable place.

  8. Now that’s an elegant image. Spanish dancer’s fan or high schooler kid’s expression of individuality? A biker’s helmet Mohawk?
    Palms suffered so much last winter. I did trim dead stuff off ends of mine – but since some of the frond ends bend in a straight line and break, could it be possible with the strong winds that the frost bit ends broke off? Could have been “tended” by a concerned palm lover after cold weather ended to allow plant a chance – even if with partial leaves?
    When looking at houses/lots we always look for those palms as they only grow where it floods/marshes/lots of water frequently…Kingwood has a bunch – with some people there must not have noticed until Harvey/Ike.
    Love this picture!

    1. I don’t think it likely that a palm lover trimmed this one. To find it, you’d have to follow the path to the second bird blind at Dudney, skirt around the blind, go down the embankment, then head off along the shoreline of the slough. I thought it was a great idea, but I suspect most people wouldn’t.

      Love the Mohawk suggestion; that one never had occurred to me, although, if I were a USC fan, it might have.

      You’re right about last winter being particularly tough on the palms. Several that had been in the ground over at Lakewood for only about a year didn’t make it, and they had to be cut down. By mid-summer, it was pretty clear they weren’t going to come back.

      1. If someone – a botanist or naturalist – was taking inventory and trying to do what they could, maybe – they’d take that path.
        Drive past the school complex in the afternoon for the spiked views HAHA
        Trees of Houston did a segment last week on how many old trees of all types that seemed to survive the flooding are now dying. An expert says it takes a long time for big red to die and that’s what’s happening along Allan Parkway and places that were under water. They are growing replacement trees in buckets/tubs on 5 donated land spots – behind schools and companies – and are planting like crazy. Rainy season will help them…if limited “ponding”…
        Who knew palms were so stinky when their trunks seem to melt and fold over?

    1. Isn’t it fun when mysteries are pleasant? If this had been anywhere near a sidewalk or obviously groomed area, it would have been an easy call. But out on the fringes of a nature preserve? Just about every reasonable hypothesis in the world’s been offered here, and I’ll bet we still haven’t hit on the right one!

    1. Thank you! You’re certainly more knowledgeable about palms than I am, but at least I’ve sorted out the dwarf palmetto and the Texas palmetto. I’m still trying to find a dwarf that has some nice fruit on it. They have beautiful black berries, but the birds (or something) must find them very tasty, because they don’t last long.

    1. I agree that it looks as though a human hand has done the trimming, but it was so far off even the unbeaten paths, and so isolated back in the tangle of bush, I can’t imagine anyone going back there to do it. On the other hand, I used to hang limestone rocks with holes in them on tree branches in the hill country to mystify anyone else who came along, so…

      1. Strange that it was in the middle of nowhere. Could an animal have chewed it when all the fronds were bunched up, before they unfolded? I can’t remember if this plant grows like that.

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