Battling the Cold with Palms


Are palms truly a harbinger of warm weather? Learn about the Nature Center's native dwarf palms.
Dwarf palm in the forest
Dwarf palmetto (Sabal minor), a native palm growing wild at the Fort Worth Nature Center & Refuge. Photo by FWNC&R Staff.

We have experienced a couple of bouts of chilly weather so far this winter, and who knows when the next Arctic front will blast in from the north. Dealing with the cold can be a challenge. As a youngster growing up in the northern hinterlands, where winter weather lasted months rather than days, we learned to cozy up to the fire-warmed hearth while drinking hot chocolate and dreaming of relaxing amongst the palms on some far-off tropical isle. There’s just something about palms that seems warm and comfortable.

During one of our recent cold snaps, I was down along the river, struggling to stay warm (probably due to the lack of a nearby hearth or hot beverage). Jimmy Buffett songs ran through my head (because his songs always feature warm places), when, lo and behold, I spied that harbinger of warmth — a palm.

Yes, the Refuge is home to a native palm — the dwarf palmetto. A few of the three-to-four-foot plants grow along Shoreline Drive and are most noticeable in the winter, thanks to their evergreen nature. The fan-shaped leaves sitting atop a spindly stem wave in the slightest of breezes, beckoning all to come enjoy their warm tropical aura.

Dwarf palm in the forest
The Nature Center is at the northwestern edge of the dwarf palm's range, but you can find a few along Shoreline Drive. Photo by FWNC&R Staff.

Dwarf palms are not common on the Refuge since we sit close to the northwestern edge of their range. They primarily are found growing in the alluvial soils associated with a river, so look for most of the Refuge’s examples between Shoreline Drive and the West Fork of the Trinity River. If you take a moment and look for the species on the Nature Center’s iNaturalist page (, you’ll find that there have been 22 observations recorded and get an idea of where they are located.

Closeup of dwarf palm
In this closeup, notice the dwarf palm's fan-shaped leaves atop a spindly stem. Photo by FWNC&R Staff.

Alas, on that cold winter day on the Refuge, I learned that finding an actual palm does not make one feel warm.

By Rob Denkhaus, Manager, Fort Worth Nature Center & Refuge

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