Roving Reporter | "Are Those Palm Trees Dead?" Text and 2 Photos by Jeanette Larson

*This article was written before Harvey, but is still relevant.  See bottom of article for recent update.

The question, "are those trees dead?," is being asked by many who see the rows of palm trees lying on their sides on the city property off the Highway 35 Bypass bordered by Teal and Corpus Christi streets. The short answer, according to Parks Director Rick Martinez, is "no. They are not dead." But where did they come from and why are they there?

The palm trees were donated to the city by David Derenthall. They had been in the ground at the site of the Big Fisherman restaurant for many years. Derenthall purchased that property to build storage units and removed the palms and loaded them for transportation. The City paid $18,000 for the transport service. They can survive without being replanted as long as they have water. A drip system keeps the roots moist. The tops turn brown and may need to be trimmed but the plant survives. Martinez estimates the value of the trees at about $120,000.

The property off the Bypass is the site of the proposed city sports complex. Almost 41 acres was purchased in January 2015 for $1.5 million. According to the original conceptual layout, the complex will include adult softball fields, a picnic pavilion, playground area, and walking trails, although the ultimate project may be quite different. The complex is planned to be able to attract regional tournaments and competitions. Martinez indicated that the plans have changed a bit but the palm trees are intended to be planted near the entrance and exit to the property.

The trees are Washingtonia robusta, or Mexican fan palm trees, referred to as Washingtonia palms or "character" palms (because they grow in strange shapes). While not native to the coastal bend, the trees have done well in Rockport. Martinez has experience with palm trees, having traveled to Harlingen in 2004 to purchase similar palm trees for Compass Rose Park and Rockport Beach Park. The palms typically cost about $40 per foot of trunk, so even if there is a loss of 10-20%, which is typical for transplanted trees, the city has made a good deal.

An on-going engineering study will determine a site plan for the Sports Complex, along with other factors such as storm water retention, phasing of the project, and project costs and schedule. That study was due to be presented to the Parks Board at the August 28 at 6:00 p.m., however that meeting was cancelled by Harvey. It is anticipated that the study will be presented at the October Parks Board meeting. The public is invited to hear about the plans and the changes proposed from the initial concept.

*NOTE: This article was written prior to Harvey's arrival and has been revised slightly to account for the delay in publication. The trees look a little pathetic at this point, however, according to Martinez they are resilient. If the core of the palm is not compromised the tree can survive and regain health. While he initially anticipated a small loss of trees, Martinez now expects that 50-60% will be still be usable. Some may be replanted to replace those lost at Compass Rose Park.

Residents who are concerned about their own trees can contact Nueces County Extension 361-767-5250 with questions.

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