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Mysterious Birmingham! Hardy, trunk forming palms are highly sought after in northern areas because most trunk developing palms reach a cold hardiness limit at zone 8. This palm has a proven history of cold tolerance from Birmingham, AL to Oklahoma City, OK to Raleigh NC and various other locals, allowing gardeners in zone 7 to grow a trucking palm. The history and provenance of this plant are somewhat muddled, depending on the source but the plants ability to survive cold is no legend. This plant has a moderate to slow growth rate developing a trunk slowly over time. Everyone now considers that this palm is most likely a hybrid between Sabal palmetto and Sabal minor. The original plant in Miss Eva Alexander's garden was famous because in its time it was one of the most northerly growing trunk-palms in the south. We use the word "was" because now it is dead. The story goes that it was removed from her garden on Graymont Avenue which was going to be cleared for a church. It was relocated to the Birmingham Botanical Garden. There it thrived for 10 years, until it was killed in the freeze of 1983-84. Luckily the notoriety of this hardy trunk-palm had guaranteed its survival as seed had been widely planted and distributed across the south. It was destined to repopulate the city of Birmingham. Thanks go to Melanie B. Johns of the Birmingham Botanical Gardens and Hayes Jackson for their interest in this horticultural curiosity and for telling us its story. Thanks to for the image.
7b to 10
15' Tall x -
Notes and observations about this plant
- Birminghams on display
Raleigh, NC's Jaycee Park has a couple of mature Birminghams on display. I saw them 2 weeks ago.Their trunks are about 10' tall and perhaps 3' in diameter at the widest point. The frond spread is well in excess of 15'.
I have a YuccaDo Birmingham in the ground at my Charlotte home (been there for 12 years) and the trunk is 1.5' tall. Impressive and healthy. (Posted on 5/15/2013 by Ken Szymanski).
- Variable Birminghams
- I've had mixed results with my Birminghams. My two oldest ones (from Yucca Do) browned out two winters in a row ('09-'10 and '10-'11) but with the mild winter of '11-'12 they grew well and hopefully this mild winter will get them growing as well. Meanwhile smaller Birminghams did better. I thing Birminghams are like Brazorias in being quite variable in cold hardiness. I'd also like to add that one of the Birminghams in Raleigh's Jaycees Park has almost a 6' trunk now and has really sped up in recent years. (Posted on 3/2/2013 by Rob Garren).
- Living in the Southern Appalachian Mountains
I got my first S. Birmingham from Tony over at Plant Delights Nursery in NC before he listed it in his catalog.
It was rather small and I hoped for the best.
Living in the Southern Appalachian Mountains where zone 6b collides with zone 7a can be very challenging due to severe wet and freezing winters. This first year I mulched it and pulled an outside table over it to protect it from from the seemingly endless nights of frost in winter.
I did the same the 2nd winter and on the 3rd winter it was on its on.
It was well sited away from winds in a SW faced planting.
The palm grew and always had little leaf burn and endured -8*f twice in 2003 and most all years with lows below 5*f from 1998-2011 with several per year.
We had a z8 winter recently in 2012.
The palm is now trunking and has about 8 inched of wood. The palm has lived up to its name as advertised for me and for my location. (Posted on 5/20/2012 by Rob OlgaTree).
- Setting the record strait
I have the oldest S. sp. birmingham that is presently in cultivation. My tree was taken as a seedling from under the original plant, long before it was moved to the BBG, and is now well over 35 years old.
My tree has survived below zero temperatures at least three times; -1, January 11, 1982, -4, January 20, 1985, -6, January 21, 1985, and several other temperatures below 10 degrees in the old days. It has never had over 5% tip burn on the fronds, and only then during the 1985 below zero episodes.
As a note, the history of the original S. sp. birmingham has been slightly corrupted over the years. Although I do not know the location where this tree originated from, (neither does anyone else) I do know that it's fate at the BBG has been more than slightly revised.. The tree, no doubt, died in the late 80's, but it was not due to the cold weather as reported by some that claimed to be "in the know." The tree's demise came from improper handling by the BBG during this time, where it was moved more than once, causing it to be more susceptible to harsh conditions than it previously would have been. Take it from someone that was present at the time, there is even incorrect information as to how it came to be given to the BBG in the first place. That tree had survived below zero episodes in the past, and the fact that the one that I have survived the same conditions, if for no other reason, should call into question the official reason given by some, for it's demise. If anything, the conditions at the BBG at the time, should have not been more harsh as at my home, due to them being much closer to the "heat island effect" in the city.
By the way, your website states that the S. sp. birmingham would grow to 30 feet (Now Revised). The original parent tree had a trunk of only, about 15 feet and it would have been, around 75 years old at the time it died. As I have stated, I own the oldest one now existing and it, at over 35 years, has a trunk of around 4 feet. There are, at least, four others to my knowledge that are a little younger than mine that have just slightly more trunk than that. My tree has been transplanted two times, and was given a site where it is partially shaded, something that will retard growth in most Sabals.
A buddy of mine, and myself, have since donated another fairly large S. sp. birmingham to the BBG. This tree also was a first generation tree that was located in the vicinity of the original plant, and was saved from destruction by us, and subsequently given to the BBG.
Just thought you would like a little history from someone that was there at the time, to counteract some of the revisionist history spread by second and third parties. Some of this has came from very well meaning people, but they are relying on mostly second hand information.
Mt. Olive, AL/Panama City Beach, FL
Member: Southeastern Palm Society (Posted on 2/12/2011 by Raymond Adams).
- testing its limits
- I have a "Riverside" sabal planted next to a "Birmingham" sabal in my yard in Hot Springs, Arkansas. The Riverside did great last winter with 3 days of 10 degree temps. I hope the Birmingham lives up to it's reputation like the Riverside did. Both palms have similar type histories. (Posted on 8/9/2010 by Charles Harper).
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