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Sabal Sanctum

How coyote scat can help you grow a palm tree.

By Sheryl Smith-Rodgers

As a boy growing up in Brownsville, Jimmy Paz and his buddies often played Tarzan in what they called the “palm jungle,” a dense forest of palm trees that grew southeast of town.

That was the late ’40s. Today, Paz works as manager at his childhood hideout, now a part of the 557-acre Sabal Palm Audubon Center. The sanctuary — owned by the National Audubon Society — protects what remains of the nation’s largest stand of old-growth sabal palms.

Long ago, Sabal texana — Texas’ only native palm — grew prolifically in the Rio Grande Valley. In 1519, Spanish explorer Alonzo Álvarez de Pineda named a river he found for the many palms that flourished along its banks — Rio de las Palmas (later renamed the Rio Grande). By 1925, extensive clearing for agriculture severely reduced their numbers.

Sabal palms grow up to 50 feet tall and have fan-shaped leaves that measure 5 to 7 feet (width and length). Historically, people have used palm trunks as posts for huts and wharf pilings; leaves were woven into hats, baskets, mats, chair seats and roof thatching. Micharos (palm fruit) could be bought in Mexican markets.

“Coyotes and birds also eat the fruit,” Paz adds. “If you want to grow sabal palms from seed, just find some coyote scat, wash and plant. The seedlings will come right up!”

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