A Short History of Palm Leaves
by Rob Sproule
Few plants are more recognizable than the mighty palm. They rise triumphant, heedless of what’s around them, confident in their thick trunked foundation.
Humanity has revered palms throughout history. Date palms played a pivotal role in building and fueling early cultures. They were grown 5000 years ago for their shade, high-energy fruit, and construction materials. Across eons and cultures, palm leaves symbolize victory with integrity, a meaning reinforced when we look skyward to see the leaves catch the wind.
In ancient Greek mythology, palm leaves were the symbol of Nike, the winged goddess of victory. The Greeks bestowed palm leaves upon victorious Olympic athletes.
2500 years ago in South and Southeast Asia, there wasn’t a lot of paper. The peoples there had much to say and the only thing they could write on were dried palm leaves.
As early as the 5th century BCE and possibly earlier, people from the Middle East to Vietnam used palm leaves to tell their stories. The collected leaves were dried, smoked and cut into rectangles. They were bound with string into book-like manuscripts.
A week before his resurrection, Jesus rode triumphantly into Jerusalem. He didn’t come as a conqueror astride a horse, but as a peacemaker astride a donkey. A few days later he was arrested and, on Friday, crucified.
Christians around the world celebrate that Sunday as Palm Sunday, the beginning of the Holy Week. As Jesus rode into Jerusalem, throngs of the faithful laid down palm leaves as welcome. They were the perfect symbol for a victorious, yet peaceful, hero.
On Palm Sunday, Christians wave palm leaves to remember Jesus’s procession. In parts of Europe, where palm fronds were hard to come by, people cut tree branches of what was available (hence the common name of Yew Sunday).
Palms in the Home
While few homes will have a 20 metre date palm in them, palms are a sought after houseplant. They have an uncanny ability to make rooms look larger by filling tall, narrow spaces with lush life.
While there are thousands of species, you’ll only find a dozen or so readily available. These will all do well in an average to well lit room. Don’t let the soil dry out and make sure it has excellent drainage.
Palms are remarkable air cleaners, with the Areca, Dwarf Date, and Bamboo palm making NASA’s light of best toxin removers. They can be prone to spider mite, though, so mist down the leaves regularly. Controlling Spider Mites
Easy on the pruners. They grow from a central stem, so pruning for height will probably kill it. If it grows to your ceiling, my best advice is to try to give it to a good home (a friend with vaulted ceilings). Don’t be too quick to trim off yellow and brown leaves, either. Palms draw significant nutrients from leaves as they decay.