The Queen Palm (Syagrus romanzoffiana)

Carving of late has taken a backward step, work consumes every available minute leaving me with a very tired body but the brain is always active during the daily commute thinking of new ideas or methods to use in my carvings.

It just struck me a few days ago that a carving should not be restricted to just timbers that you would associate with a regular tree but what if I were to use the outer casing of the seed pod from a Queen Palm. Here in Southern California Queen Palms are one of the basic choices for the landscaped garden and you often see the fruit hanging from the stem like large green grapes before they ripen to a bright orange. The seed casing is a single 24-30 inch leaf that protrudes up from the main stem until it splits open to reveal the small flowers that will eventually produce the fruit. While the fruit is developing the casing is starting to dry out, this you can observe by the color change. The leaf starts out as a silvery green color but as the moisture retracks the color changes to a pale silvery sand shade and the casing twists like a propeller.

The palm seed pod developing.

I’m fortunate enough to witness this event in my own garden where I have several varieties of palm tree including the queen palm. During one of the “Tidy the garden weekends,” which I rarely do, apart from cutting the lawn, my wife is the expert with the garden. It was time to remove all the old palm fronds that had started to accumulate and being of a height where you had to get the ladder out, it was of course my job to do. I had noticed the accumulation of palm seeds that had already changed to orange and had started dropping onto the driveway causing a mass of flies to gather and feast on the fruit. I’ve been told that the actual fruit is edible but have not tried it myself and to be honest have no desire to anyway.

In any event it was time to rid us of this mess and with it the fly population, no doubt accelerated by the latest heat wave we’ve been experiencing. Up the ladder I go with the garden lopping shears to cut off the two large clumps of fruit, one bunch already orange and the other green, like grapes. It’s amazing the weight of these fruit clusters, a good forty pound I would guess, exploding all over the driveway.

After cutting away the dead palm fronds the actual seed pod casing was left, quite dry to the touch with a dark brown inner surface. The outside, during the drying process had hairline cracks along the length of the leaf, no doubt cracks between the veins of where the fluid once flowed, nourishing the leaf.

Cracks in the seed pod casing after the fluids retreat into the main stem.

Taking the lopping shears I removed this dried out carcase thinking that it might be possible to carve a Welsh Lovespoon from this hard shell. Well, not as hard as the timber that you would normally use but hard enough to warrant using carving tools. The actual density felt like a pine where you could dent the surface with your finger nail if you tried.

Thinking a head, how would I intergrate a design with the extreme twist that had developed during the drying out process, what size would I make it and how much time should I invest into an unknown cause, will the material actually carve and retain an acceptable finish. These were all questions that were running through my brain but the challenge was quite magnetic. It was something that has to be done regardless of the result. In fact the whole process to me is quite exciting because of the different material and the unknown properties. A challenge that I was not about to give up lightly.

Firstly, I should make it large enough so that it can handle a simple weave and not distract from the natural twist. The thickness of the dried out leaf is in the 10.0 mm to 12.0 mm region so there is not a lot of leeway for a large relief in the surfaces. Secondly if I were to carve a deep bowl for the spoon would it break through into the natural cracks that had appeared during the drying out process. These were all questions with unknown answers at this time, a bridge to be crossed when the carving starts.

The appearance of the material strikes me as being similar to a bamboo with a very stringy property, this is more noticable when the dead fronds are ripped from the trunk leaving many strands behind when it is not quite dry enough to leave cleanly. With this thought, I might be able to create some unique pieces but first I’ll have to understand how durable the material is. With my ideas now formulating, I’ll place this seed pod in the garage for safe keeping, the design is the next critical step.

Remnants of a previous cluster, the outer casing.

For further information on palms consider these books. (Affiliate link)

PALMS THROUGHOUT  WORLD  Ornamental Palm Horticulture  Palm Trees: A Story in Photographs  Field Guide to the Palms of the Americas (Princeton Paperbacks)

4 thoughts on “The Queen Palm (Syagrus romanzoffiana)

  1. My aunt was given a Queen Palm seed pod and plans to use it in a floral arrangement.
    We also thought it would be nice for a small canoe in decorating for Thanksigivn look like a small canoe and use it for a center piece.
    They are agreat conversation piece just sitting on a coffee table.

  2. Thanks for your article and photos. I found one of these pods a short while ago. I suspected it came from a palm but wasn’t sure until I saw your photos.

    I have used the pod as a base to display a collection of Tillandsia ‘air plants’. I packed the inside of the pod with small slices of wood which I then packed with peat moss and then covered with coconut fibre. The Tillandsia are glued to the wood. I finished the piece by covering it with Tillandsia usneoides (Spanish moss). I intend to use it as a demonstration piece to encourage my clients (in Community Mental Health program) to take on the making of the Tillandsia arrangements as a hobby or a way of making a little extra money by selling them.

  3. It’s amazing what use and enjoyment these pods can provide. My children use these as surfboards in the garden pretending that they are riding a huge wave. The dog enjoys just chewing them.

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