When Windmill Palms go bad

 Subscribe in a reader

horror hostess TillieWelcome to Late-night Garden Horror. Your hostess tonight is the mysterious and languid Madame Tillie, mistress of the dark corners of the garden, empress of the dense leaves and the deep shade beneath— behind the wall, under the fronds, back of the stones…

Tonight’s feature is called Windmill Palm, the story of chlorophyll innocence and leaf beauty, airy form and ancient stature which became, somehow, possessed by evil. It is the story of a young palm, planted and cherished, nurtured and loved, only to turn upon its caregiver with unbridled wild unthinkableness that can’t even be comprehended or what the hell is that anyway?!

[breathe. breathe.]

Because once, not so long ago, the palm was a charming and well-behaved tree, all sweet and manageable and there by the greenhouse door welcoming everyone in, shading the ferns, casting odd shadows. It was exotic and Victorian and I loved it like I would a rose or even a delphinium. (For a dangerous moment I considered adopting a second one, in case palms are flocking plants, but I forgot…)

windmill palm by the greenhouse

Then it happened.


I don’t know what I do to deserve these events… I walk outside, in happy devotion to the gardens, and I come upon this eruption or extension or extrusion, coming out of my windmill palm.

windmill palm bud

It leers. It looms. It reminds me of a cobra, or yes that creature in Alien that would burst out of some poor expendable character’s mid-section.

And now it is spreading, opening, reaching. And if not an alien at least it looks like those millet sprays I used to buy for my parrot.

windmill palm blooming

Okay it’s a flower. But it has creepy down to an art. (I will not be picking a nice bouquet of these to bring inside.)

And no one at the plant nursery happened to mention this so-called flowering when I bought it. They all forgot. Sure.

windmill palm bloom

I am trying to be generous. The “flowers” remind me a bit of Dr. Suess and that’s a positive. They remind me a bit of The Addams Family, another plus. And I like the parrot connection even though I tried for years to get him to say please pass the rum but he would only say what’s your problem and then he would, oddly, make a sound exactly like water going down the kitchen drain…

Ponderosa pine flowerThe Ponderosa Pine manages to bloom without scaring the living daylights out of everyone.

four aspen treesThere is a little row of aspen trees, between the house and the greenhouse, and they just get nicer and white and tall and graceful and yes they do make little trees…

top of the aspen treesThe aspens colonize. I dig up one or two every year–no big scary alien-looking sudden alarming freaky deal.

Oh alright I’m getting over it. And since I am so remarkably grown-up and mature I will also admit that the pair of rhododendrons I accused of never blooming have bloomed–but I still don’t know their names.

purple rhodendrons

About linniew

Unpublished novelist seeks therapy in gardening. Westie assists.
This entry was posted in Tillie, trees and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

28 Responses to When Windmill Palms go bad

  1. Aimee says:

    I really, really want a soundtrack to play along with this post. Your movie-poster skills are almost too amazing…that picture is SOOOOOOOO disturbing. And yet I can’t look away! Seriously, I’ve gone back and looked at it four times now. Good thing you ended with pretty, nameless rhododendrons. Hopefully I won’t have nightmares tonight!

    • linniew says:

      I was truly repelled when I found those “buds” — there are THREE of them — in my garden. Disturbing indeed. It looked like an invasion. But maybe I should have included a warning at the top of the post… I will hope for you to have sweet dreams tonight Aimee!

  2. I quite like that spray of flowers on the palm… But maybe it’s just me.

    And the unknown rhododendrons look amazing; such a great colour! I “have” one the same colour in my workless garden, i.e. in the cemetery across the street from the apartment.

    • linniew says:

      It was the palm “buds” that were the more threatening.

      Workless garden seems a very nice idea.

      • I love living across the street from a cemetery; there are so many pretty trees, shrubs and perennials growing there, and in the listed part of the cemetery – which is right outside our windows – people go for picnics and sunbathing, so it’s like having a lovely park with picturesque statuary in it (and the odd female topless sun-worshipper, which is sadly completely wasted on me).

        And let me tell you; it looks tidier than my garden! (Perhaps because my lawn hasn’t been mowed for 3 weeks and is once again bordering on “jungle”…)

  3. Spectra says:

    I totally see your point – those wrinkled, chubby, alien body-husks looked fit to burst forth with grotesque little heads dripping with green slimy spit right down your neck and back as you crouched below silently weeding. In fact, they may well have done that to you already, but the venim contained a ‘forgetting serum’, erasing your memory so you wouldn’t go at it with an axe and toss it down a 300 foot ravine.

    It would’ve just somehow shown up back in your garden the next morning, anyway. You know that, right? I think you’ve made this palm too good a home. It got comfortable and decided to flourish. the nerve!

  4. b-a-g says:

    Linnie – there might be people out there begging their palms to flower. This post showing your glorious flowering specimen is probably rubbing salt into their wounds. It might be one of those that only flowers every hundred years or something.

    • linniew says:

      ‘Glorious flowering specimen’ is very kind b-a-g. And I’ve done some reading–it sounds as though this display will repeat every spring now that the palm is mature. At least next year I will expect it and not wonder if the bud is an over-achieving virus or an elongated terrorist or an arboreal cobra…

  5. Lyn says:

    I always enjoy your horror stories, Linnie. But I hope Max wasn’t too frightened.

  6. Alberto says:

    So you’ve planted an entire row of poplars less than 4 meters (I wonder how many cups and spoons to measure 1 meter) and you’re scared of some palm cob? You fool! 🙂 That alley with the poplars looks gorgeous though, who cares if the roots will rip your house open in a few years?

    Anyway I did a little research on american aspen tree and it seems to be populus tremula (trembling aspen), so is the palm really scaring your poplars? Maybe only Morticia Tillie Addams could tell…

    Is the creepy parrot still in this World?

    • linniew says:

      You have many questions Alberto!

      The aspen trees are planted along the south side to protect the house from the sun, which typically would destroy the paint in about three years. They are doing a good job of shading even the second story and gable. There is a new concrete basement below the house so I would expect the roots to go other directions. More of a worry are the maple trees, whose roots are close to the surface and can be seen shooting off in alarming lengths. They are more distant from the house but not from the greenhouse, whose floor is concrete pavers set in sand. We will see how this all turns out but really I don’t fear problems in my lifetime. (I will leave a note to the children to get you over here to help if root damage occurs later.)

      Aspen wood is good against vampires so we are all feeling pretty safe in that regard. My grey parrot, Timothy, was given to some elderly people who had other birds and hand-raised baby ones. They let me know later that Timothy turned out to be a female and was happily married and nesting.

  7. I think it’s beautiful and interesting—sorry but I really do.

  8. kininvie says:

    Dear Linnie,
    The palm-bud is very obviously phallic. I am sure that Freud (had he thought about it) would have a lot to say on the subject of palm flowers. If you are scared by this flower, might I suggest some suitable counselling?

  9. Roberta says:

    That thing – it’s obscene.

  10. Alistair says:

    I wish a Palm tree would grow here Linnie. I see what you mean though, I came over all funny, then again Tillie always does it for me, don’t tell Myra. I like your row of Aspen and your Rhododendron looks great in front of the fence.

    • linniew says:

      I am afraid Tillie entrances quite a few people, especially in her black dress. (Don’t worry I won’t breathe a word to Myra.) The palm endures snow and ice. I’d expect it could grow in some pretty wintry places–perhaps you too could have big scary palm blooms in your garden, Alistair.

  11. Alistair says:

    Linnie, sorry, I did mean to thank you on behalf of Lana. You made her so happy, in fact she was over the moon, and she now thinks I have the greatest blog in the world..

  12. Grace says:

    Well all be danged. I thought Madame Tillie had, perhaps, KILLED your beloved Windmill Palm. A flower, even in the form of parrot food is better than death. So Dr. Seuss and Tillie have been masterminding… Could be worse. Congrats on the lovely Rhodie.

    • linniew says:

      Thanks Gracie! Since my palm burst into flower I have noticed similar behavior on the part of palms I see in other people’s gardens so I guess it isn’t a local alien infestation or at least not just local to my tree. Tillie loves it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s