Nova Scotia

Now that spring has sprung, how are those Dartmouth palm trees doing?

All of the palm trees planted last summer have survived a Nova Scotia winter — though a few were left with health problems.

Halifax planted nine palms across the community last summer, raising questions about their survivability

Palm trees scattered throughout Dartmouth have survived the winter, according to Halifax staff. (Alex Cooke/CBC)

It seems Halifax municipal staff weren't barking up the wrong tree when they decided to plant a number of palm trees across Dartmouth last summer.

Several months after the "bold" decision, an area councillor said the two biggest and eye-catching plants will live to see another season. Their protective coverings were removed last week.

"They're doing good," said Sam Austin, the councillor for Dartmouth Centre. "Popping open the box, it's kind of a 'ta-dah!' moment because inside is a palm with green leaves, and both of them did quite well."

The move to plant the nine non-native trees sparked questions about whether or not a plant typically associated with warm beaches and pina coladas could survive a winter of snow, sleet and sub-zero temperatures.

Trees are cold-hardy varieties

The two largest and most popular ones — planted at Sullivans Pond and Shubie Park — are windmill palms, considered to be the world's most cold-hardy variety.

Austin said they spent their long winter nights boxed up with a light source to provide a bit of extra ambient heat.

But they likely felt the chill anyway, he said.

"These ones are native to the Himalayas, so they're accustomed: they get snow on them, they encounter freezing conditions," said Austin, adding that other cities in Canada are growing that type of palm tree as well.

"I understand that Montreal has some and Vancouver, and in southern Ontario. So it wasn't it wasn't a huge climatic leap to make it happen here."

In January and February 2019, Halifax had an average daily minimum temperature of -9.8 C.

Over the winter, the windmill palm trees at Sullivans Pond and Shubie Park were sheltered from the weather in a box. (Alex Cooke/CBC)

'Some mould issues'

The smaller ones, speckled throughout Shubie Park, Sullivans Pond and Ferry Terminal Park, lived through the winter as well — though a horticulturalist with the city said the way they were covered up may have led to other health problems for them.

The plants include the miniature chusan palm, native to parts of Asia, and the needle palm, native to the Gulf region and the south Atlantic United States.

Chris Poole, the supervisor of horticulture for Halifax Regional Municipality, said the leaves of the smaller palms were tightly wrapped in a "foil-like bubble wrap," then the plants were covered by a three-sided structure made of landscape fabric.

While the covering broke the wind and protected them from the cold, Poole said the tight wrapping around the leaves may have trapped in some extra moisture.

"What we're finding is that increased humidity, because of the bubble wrap, I think, has caused some mould issues for those small ones," he said. 

"So it's something that we're keeping an eye on right now, and we're going to see if we can get the mould under control."

Municipal horticulturalist Chris Poole said some of the smaller trees are having mould problems. (Alex Cooke/CBC)

He said the mould can also be a sign that there could be an insect problem, but he said it looks like the cold hasn't harmed them, and the city will monitor the plants to see if things improve.

Poole added that they likely won't be using that type of covering next year.

"It's trial and error, we're learning as we're going, but I think that we're definitely on the right track," he said. 

Two pindo palms — native to South America — were planted in the Dartmouth Common as well, but they were moved to a greenhouse in the fall and will likely be replanted once it warms up a bit more, said Poole.

City considers experiment a success

While Poole said the city isn't planning on planting more anytime soon, he said he was happy the palm trees will survive to see another season.

"They're a great feature in our parks. I think that there's been more selfies taken with the palm trees last year than most other things in HRM," he said.

"We knew that these hardy palm trees were out there, so we wanted to try them to see if they survived."

Austin also considers the botanical experiment a success.

"They just make people smile to see them … it's unique, it's whimsical, it kind of takes you to another place when you see them. You don't expect to see a palm tree in Nova Scotia," he said.

"I'm just happy to see them green and thriving again for the spring."

The trees were purchased from a supplier in Montreal for $2,619.

The city has a tradition of planting exotic species, such as pineapple, coffee and the famous agave that once graced the Halifax Public Gardens.

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