Palm and Cycad Arboretum in Jacksonville

This is post #1 in a series all about cold hardy palms and cycads, as seen at the Florida State College of Jacksonville's palm arboretum.  There's a huge variety of specimens, ranging in hardiness from the ultra freeze proof windmill palm to the only slightly frost tolerant Alexandra Palm.  There are feather palms, clumping palms, fan palms, rare cycads, and even some bananas, white bird of paradise and bromeliads thrown in for the heck of it! 

Here's a medley of coontie cycad (in the foreground), queen sago, lady palm and the difficult to obtain spiny fiber palm.

When I attended this college, I was constantly staring at all the unusual shapes and forms at the arboretum, and its hard to say if my grades suffered or were improved by the diversion.  Now that I am fluent in the language of gardening, its especially rewarding to see all of the rare surprises they have in store, like the tightly packed unripe berries on the seashore palm. (following pic)

The Palm arboretum is fascinating for its informative collection, but from an aesthetic perspective I have to say it falls short of my expectations, not by any fault of the designers mind you.  The placement is perfect and the groupings of clustering smaller palms an sagos are great, but by consisting of palms exclusively the garden highlights the negative qualities of palms and cycads too.  Man cannot live on palms alone, for they cast little shade on a hot day, lack the softening qualities that dicots have, and visually get jumbled together without a backdrop of breezy dark green leaves.
I feel that palms are best used in the context of surrounding finer foliage to set off the architectural shapes, the way they would (usually) appear in nature.  Apart from Aechmea Distichantha bromeliads and parched looking turf, there is no groundcover to soothe the eye and make the architectural outlined of the palms "pop".  Throughout the arboretum there are no trees to add variety to the monotonous groupings, and accordingly there is no shade for the students to really utilize the space, except at the margins.

My humble recommendation is that FSCJ begins to install a modernist groundcover planting to complement the modern architecture of the main building.  To the left is an example of the Brazilian master landscape architect, Roberto Burle-Marx.  Take it or leave it, FSCJ South Campus, but your outstanding arts programs (I am an alumni) would be well represented by an homage to a great artist and architect.  I know of at least one person who would be willing to help with such a planting, and I'm sure that there are landscape architects who would be excited to give back to the community in a lasting way!

Cold Hardiness
The arboretum is an excellent educational tool to see what palms were able to handle a couple of record breaking winters.  Some palms sustained damage, and at least one is now dead.  The Foxtail Palm is definitely dead, and though the crownshaft on the Picabeen Palm is green, there are no green leaves.  As you'll see in the photos, most of the palms fared pretty well!  Here is a listing of the specimens.


Stay tuned for the next post in this series, full of unusual cold hardy palms and helpful info!


  1. I like it! Now you just need to make sure someone there reads your blog!

  2. Yup, the landscape of an arboretum has to be more interesting. Just not for showing collection of plants but also it would be good to look pleasing overall. Did you say white bird of paradise? How unique!

    Palms and cycads grow really well here. I look forward to seeing the varieties that this arboretum has. Thanks in advance for sharing what you have seen.

  3. Lovely arboretum, but I think you're right about including other plantings to make it all come together and be more inviting. Can't wait to see more of your ideas.

  4. Great post and wonderful place to visit / report on! I like the theme, especially as so many of us might be looking for alternatives after last winter. I'm a fan of the lady palm, but don't have any. I might have to add it.
    I like your suggestion to add a modern spin to tie into the modern art. It makes sense!!

  5. Well, now I know why you are so well-versed on palm nomenclature. As a native Floridian and self-professed plant addict, I can't spout off palm names like you! Though it might not be as aesthetically pleasing or as shady as you like, I hope you do realize a place like that is a treasure. By the way, a tight cluster of like palms makes for a very shady grove. I know of a particularly shady spot I love that consists of clustered queen palms, each about ten feet apart. Lovely, breezy spot.

  6. My spirit, absolute rejection of palms finds soothing your critical view on these abused, maintenance pain in the ass, creatures of god.

    Palms are difficult to use
    in creative ways, I think people, gardeners with criteria will get sick of them eventually.

    Or some miner, fungi will arrive and get rid of them.

    Any palm is like a light post with a hair wig. Stiff and rigid.

  7. I always enjoy your trips to local gardens, and this one is no exception. It looks like they've got some very beautiful species. Botanical gardens and arboretums are great places to find unusual species and gather ideas for our own gardens.

  8. Hello,

    I am writing a book on the arboretums of North America and visited (and photographed) the Palm & Cycad Arboretum at Jacksonville. Do you know if there is any general history information about the arboretum?

    Thank you,



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