Published on March 31, 2020

Sabal x brazoriensis is Brazoria County’s own palm tree species

By Janice Edwards / The Bulletin

On the original Palm Sunday, palm branches were placed in the path of Jesus as he entered Jerusalem - before his arrest on Holy Thursday and crucifixion on Good Friday.

Palm Sunday denotes the last week of Lent and the beginning of Holy Week. Palms were sacred in Mesopotamian religions and represented immortality in ancient Egypt. The palm symbolizes peace, triumph, victory and eternal life in those ancient worlds.

I remember as a kid going to church on Palm Sunday and making sure I didn’t leave without my palm frond. The family’s fronds would be displayed all year long above the hanging turkey platter in the dining room.

It was tradition. We couldn’t have Palm Sunday without the palm fronds. I never really thought much about the tradition, though until recently when I learned something new.

Palm Sunday is coming around again this week, and the “something new” I learned about Palm Sunday is that Brazoria County grows a unique palm tree found nowhere else in the world.

People new to Brazoria sometimes mistake the lowly Palmetto growing in low-lying areas as baby palm trees, but these plants are relatively small and are not palm trees. However, deep in an unpublicized “Palm Unit” of the San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge – behind a locked fence – flourishes a rare palm tree, the Brazoria Palm.

The existence of this palm has been known since 1941. Much of the early research on it was done by Landon Lockett, a linguist turned botanist, who wrote extensively about the speciation of palms throughout Central and North America.

Lockett reported his findings to the Refuge complex in the early 1990s, and by 1996, the refuge acquired the acreage where the palm now thrives.

Botanists have studied this plant for years. It was identified by DNA in 2011 as being an ancient cross between Sabal palmetto and Sabal minor.

The scientific name of this palm, Sabal x brazoriensis, was published for this plant in 2011. Sabal x brazoriensis is the hardiest of the trunked sabal palms and, when mature, can reach 20 feet tall. (Everything’s bigger in Texas.)

The Brazoria Palms in the refuge have continued to grow and reseed. Retired biologist Mike Lange collected some of the seeds for cultivation, and seedlings were offered for sale at the 2018 Migration Celebration.

Maybe there will be more opportunities for us to own a Brazoria Palm – I hope so. It is named the Brazoria Palm because there are none like it anywhere else in the world.

(Write Jan in care of The Bulletin. Email: john.bulletin@gmail.com. Snail mail: The Bulletin, PO Box 2426, Angleton TX, 77516.)