Braheas of Northeastern Mexico

The dramatic mountainous areas of Northeastern Mexico with their awe-inspiring landscapes are rich in flora. This region is home to many distinctive Brahea species that have remained virtually unknown outside of a few palm collectors, even though they are within a day's drive of Texas, and represent some of the most cold hardy species in the genus. Rugged mountains running north to south divide the warm, humid, air of the east from the cool, dry air of the west. Their convergence is the perfect recipe to allow site specific endemic species to thrive and survive from ancient times to the present. Luckily, this area is so rugged and inhospitable to man that the future seems bright for all except possibly one - Brahea mooreii.

B. mooreii, although never plentiful, is found in northern Tamaulipas in the cool shade of large Loquat oaks (Quercus risophylla) and Monterrey oaks (Quercus polymorpha) on the eastern flank of the Sierra Madre Oriental mountain range. This site is particularly rich in temperate flora such as Styrax platanifolia subsp. mollis, Hamamelis mexicana, Persea podadena, Mahonia gracilis, Magnolia tamaulipana, and Liquidambar styraciflua to name a few. The area is bathed in periodic fogs before the summer rains settle in by late June. A backdrop of dramatic towering cliffs of solid limestone cut the hot sun by noon. This is a small delicate palm that has a creeping habit and never forms a vertical shaft. B. mooreii, as it matures, produces a chalky white wax that is most pronounced on the underside of the leaf. The new leaf bud is also covered in this white wax and as the leaf expands a highlight of it remains on the top of each leaf ridge. The overall effect is stunning. Imagine a delicate apple green dwarf fan palm dusted with frost - beautiful beyond words. (Plants at Peckerwood Garden are now exhibiting this characteristic after 10 years). This palm does fall prey to goats that eat the flower shaft, thus limiting its ability to produce seed. These stalks are three times the lengths of the leaf petiole. When seen in fruit this is a striking palm with long arching stalks topped with clusters of yellow fruit. Due to either drought or goats we have had lapses of up to 4 years before catching this palm in fruit in Mexico.

This Brahea germinates rather quickly, usually within a year and germinates in high percentages. (Others can be very slow and erratic with poor germination such as Brahea decumbens.) Seed is sown in individual pots that are narrow and deep, since they resent being divided from community pots. Always transplant this one in the warm months while it is in active growth, and give it deep shade until it settles in. Seedlings start forming true leaves in three to four years, and these leaves will be 6" to 9" across. Because of their small size they make wonderful pot specimens. Or, after a number of years they can be placed in a protected area of the garden if you live in a zone 8b or warmer. Plant in mid spring to get a running start on winter. We always protect ours the first few winters until they are acclimated. This can be accomplished by covering them with frost cloth on nights expected to go below 26 degrees and adding a plastic pot if the temps are expected below 20 degrees, adding a second pot if the temps are expected below 15 degrees. We do not know how much cold an established plant can take since our lowest temperature has been about 15 degrees. The plants at Peckerwood are about 7' across with individual leaves of up to 3'6" across. They carry around 20 leaves and after 10 years are showing a distinct creeping trunk 13" long. Only time will tell the exact cold tolerance of this species, but luckily those palm lovers outside the Deep South can easily keep this one in a pot - indefinitely.