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Plant Highlight: Brahea armata

September 2010

One of the bluest of all palm species is Brahea armata, appropriately known as the Mexican Blue Palm.  This attractive but slow-growing fan palm has leaves similar to those of the familiar Washingtonia, but with a striking chalky-blue color.  The lower part of the leaf stalk has sharp curved teeth.  It comes from Baja California in very arid surroundings, but always in spots where there is some sub-surface water available to its roots.  Thus, although it is drought-tolerant, it does like occasional watering during the summer months.

Brahea armata puts out long inflorescences in summer, and these arch outward and then hang downward, bearing tresses of creamy flowers. The rounded fruits that follow are about 5/8 inch across (17 mm), and are green initially, turning yellow as they ripen.

Brahea is a genus of about a dozen palms, widely distributed in Mexico, and with a couple of species extending down into Central America.  Most are relatively slow-growing, and they are usually found in areas with a limestone substrate.  In gardens with acidic soils, it is advisable to add some lime when planting them so that the soil pH is not too low.