Trump, a Cabbage Palm or Sassafras

Photo courtesy of Andrew Cline and
Photo courtesy of Andrew Cline and

I had no idea it was National Margarita Day. A Sanibel Island waitress mentioned it to us a few weeks ago. I was trying to focus on palm trees, but Donald Trump, his outsize ego and disturbing pretense, wouldn’t go away. I ordered a margarita.

My aunt and brother-in-law were vacationing on Sanibel Island with Rose and me. I offered lessons in palm tree identification on morning beach walks. We spent afternoons reading, napping or spotting blue herons and white pelicans at the Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge. Milton, my brother-in-law, was my best pupil. He easily learned the coconut, royal and cabbage palms.

Cabbage palm fronds.
Cabbage palm fronds.

Walter Mondale was sitting at the table next to us when we ordered margaritas. A dangerous shift in national politics has occurred since he was a player in Washington. The Minnesota senator, and vice-president under Jimmy Carter, lost badly to Ronald Reagan in a 1984 bid for the presidency.

That was a different era. President Reagan and Tip O’Neill, the Speaker of the House, now look like the great compromisers. They were good with give and take.

Cabbage palm, Sabal palmetto, on Sanibel Island, Florida.
Cabbage palm, Sabal palmetto, on Sanibel Island, Florida.

Aunt Rose, who worked on Capitol Hill for Republican Kentucky Senator Thruston Morton in the 1960s, remembers when members of both parties would regularly meet for lunch or enjoy drinks and dinner with one another in the evening. They could work across the aisle to negotiate deals.

“Let’s make a deal” meant you didn’t often get everything you wanted, but you might get something. The democratic process worked. It’s sputtering now.

The petulant obstructionist brood in Congress, including Kentuckian Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority leader, can kiss my ass.

Dwarf palmetto palm, Sabal minor, hanging on for life in Salvisa, KY on March 1st.
Dwarf palmetto palm, Sabal minor, hanging on for life in Salvisa, KY on March 1st.

The decline in civility happened in the blink of an eye compared to a geologic time in the Cambrian period 570 million years ago when Kentucky resembled the Bahamas. Parts of Kentucky were once a Devonian sea, but we weren’t quite ready for coconuts.

There weren’t any palms in the Bahamas back then, either. Fossil records of palms point to origins 80 million years ago.

I’ve been trying to grow palms in Kentucky for the last twenty years. And though it is possible Kentucky might go tropical again in a couple of million years, I’m not trying to match my palm experiment to global warming. I’m just curious about growing many types of plants.

Walter Mondale fared better in his presidential race than I have with palms. At least Mondale won Minnesota and the District of Columbia. I have struggled in the race to find a palm that could survive winters in Kentucky. I’ve got two dwarf palmetto palms Sabal minor hanging on for dear life here.


Various attempts at the Chinese windmill palm Trachycarpus fortunei (0 F/ – 17 C) have come to nothing. The Southeastern USA needle palm Rhapidophyllum hystrix (-15 F/ -26 C) bit the dust the first winter.

My surviving dwarf palmetto palms originated from seeds grown from a disjunct population of Sabal minor found growing, a little off its beaten path, in colder McCurtain County, Oklahoma. The species is usually found in the warmer coastal plains states of the southeastern USA. Mine are both planted in protected spots and have made it through winters with snow cover to (-15 F/ – 26 C).

Mitch McConnell always makes news with his Machiavellian adventures. He has allegedly told colleagues recently that he’s going to drop Trump “like a hot rock” if the Donald gets the Republican nomination.

Trump was working a crowd in Louisville this week while I was working a shovel, an hour away in Salvisa. Trump wouldn’t give a rat’s ass that I went on a tree-planting binge. There is malice toward none when you’re planting a tree.

Newly planted spicebush, Lindera benzoin, in Salvisa, KY on March 2nd.
Newly planted spicebush, Lindera benzoin, in Salvisa, KY on March 2nd.

I planted an American holly, a few sassafras, two beeches, a pair of oaks and a half-dozen spicebushes on the farm.

My tiny forest.

It’s my American dream, Donald. We’re bringing it back. Okay?


  1. I’ve found that politicians and gardening rarely mix. They spend a lot of time inside, except when campaigning. This is why we have laws that make it ok to dump millions of gallons of phosphorus in the Great Lakes but not ok to plant a meadow in your front yard.

  2. Does anyone else remember when Civics was a required class in high school? My high school took it out of the curriculum in the early 1970s. I’ve often thought about that as I have watched the decline of civil behavior in our country over time since.

  3. I think Allen you are a hybrid between Johnny Appleseed, Ghandi and Wendall Berry while Trump is from PT Barnum and any fascist you want to name. Keep planting trees!!!

  4. Essentially all of Kentucky’s lakes, rivers and streams are under health advisory to avoid eating fish because of mercury pollution, a significant source being from burning of coal.

    I think McConnell is not too happy as another EPA-favorable ruling (though it may be short-lived) occurred today due most likely to Mr. Scalia’s passing.

    I hear the ladies on the court are coming out of their shells, Mitch.
    I’m bout to hollaaaa.

    • Oh my goodness, YESSSS!!!

      Thank you, Allen. I agree with Susan and all the other commenters.

      Happy spring,

      Jan (Howard County, MD)

  5. Allen, thank you for presenting an alternative to despair. Today I will plant a palm and pray the greased palms of politics don’t triumph. I grew up in small town Ga. and my grandparents owned a Motor Court on Hwy 41. Folks passed through, sat in Adirondack chairs under the willows and talked —-not screamed or swore— politics.

  6. Alan, Thank you for your inspiring rant. But I must object to your comment, “The petulant obstructionist brood in Congress, including Kentuckian Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority leader, can kiss my ass.” Any gardener’s rear end deserves attention from a more worthy breed of human than McC.
    Back to digging the real dirt!

    • I’ve seen those Irish palms — they survive in sheltered nooks that are warmed by the Gulf Stream. No Gulf Stream in Kentucky, although with climate change and sea level rise, that could change.

  7. Alan, Always enjoy reading your “Rants”. I’m a bit down the road from you in Portland, TN. As a long-time plant collector , I have been experimenting with palms also. My Sabal minors look about like yours. I am trialing ‘Louisiana’, ‘McCurtin’, Cape Hatteras form, & one I grew from seed that I collected south of Macon, GA. They all struggle to get through our Zone7 (6) winters. Rhapidophyllum hystrix on the other hand seems to do well here. I have 3 plants ( all from Florida provenance) that are sizing up a bit each season. I think they started as 2 gallon plants & have been in the ground for at least 6 years. If you ever get down this way, you are welcome to stop in for a visit. We are doing lots of experimentation with interesting plants. E-mail me if you are planning a visit. Best regards, paul.s., Eastern Sun Studio & Gardens, Portland, TN

  8. I’ve heard that one of the reasons Washington politicians no longer are willing to compromise, or even to talk to each other, is because they all leave on the weekends to go back to their home states. This means that families don’t know each other, that spouses don’t socialize and that one reason for civility is absent. A pity. For this Canadian, being in the US during the primaries and listening to the debates and all the news ‘coverage’ has been as disheartening an experience as I’ve ever had. Thankfully, South Carolina’s weather has been great so I’ve been out and about, enjoying nature, the wildlife on Kiawah Island and a lot of sun.

  9. Politics! It’s like shopping for organic seeds, being promised they are organic only to find out later that their really GMO! I love my country and the idea that there are at least 2 parties trying to work things out for all of our interest. I’m afraid that hasn’t been the case for so long that people have forgotten that is how it is supposed to work.

    It’s nice to have communities like this were no matter your political affiliation, we still have much in common! Maybe we should invite some politicians to participate??


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