Palm trees are common enough not to warrant too much of an introduction. These big, tropical plants can come in a variety of shapes and sizes, but they all have one thing in common: their leaves. Or more accurately (and as your botanically minded friends would far rather you call them), their fronds. If you’ve ever found yourself wondering what a palm frond is, or even what you can do with them, then you’ve come to the right place to find out more.
The Palm Frond
According to Hunker, palm fronds come in four main types; pinnate, palmate, bipinnate, and entire. Regardless of type, they all take around 3 to 5 years to mature. Once one frond dies, another one emerges to take its place. Some palm trees are self-cleaning and will naturally shake off their old fronds; others will hang onto them until someone comes along and liberates them. Some fronds grow from the base of the palm, others grow in clusters at the top. Some fronds are edible, others most definitely aren’t. Occasionally, a palm frond will grow to just a couple of inches wide; other times, it will grow to the size of a full-grown man. A frond may be brown, but most of the time, it’ll be a waxy green. Essentially, then, a palm frond can be many things. But no matter their length, their color, or their girth, all palm fronds raise the same, eternal question: what exactly do you do with them?
Uses of Palm Fronds
Palm fronds can drop at even the barest whisper of a breeze, leaving those lucky enough to own a few trees under a constant deluge. Disposing of them is a chore. Leaving them to rot is unsightly. So, what exactly should you be doing with them? Thankfully, palm fronds are nothing if not useful. Next time you find yourself with a windfall, consider putting them to work with one of these handy suggestions.
Tie some fronds together around a trellis, stick it in the ground, and voila! A natural windbreak. A three to four-foot construction is sufficient for most needs, but if you’re plagued by particularly brisk breezes, make sure to use plenty of fronds to make the structure as thick as possible.
Palm thatch rooves are incredibly easy to make, even for people with barely any handicraft skills. To make a roof, simply tie some fronds to a timber frame, working from the bottom to the top, and you’re done. Unless you live in some tropical paradise, it’s not a great idea to try and thatch your actual house in this way. If, however, you’re looking for a cheap, environmentally friendly roof for your chicken coop, your garden shed, or even your compost bin, it’s ideal.
Palm tree fronds make a great base for your mulch. Simply chop them into pieces using a mulcher or lawnmower then use the results to feed your lawn, your roses, or your vegetables. Simple!
Sometimes, the weirdest suggestions are also the most ingenious. According to Rootsimple.com, palm fronds make great stand-in paint stirrers when you find yourself with a can of paint but nothing to stir it with. Try it yourself: you might never go back to conventional stirrers again.
Permaculturenews.org has a great suggestion for how to use up all those palm fronds: turn them into a garden fence. Natural, long-wearing, bio-degradable, and (best of all) completely free, a palm frond fence is a great way of keeping chickens, dogs, cats, and other pets in, and other, less welcome, critters out. While you might not think a few leaves would make an effective barrier, you’d be surprised at just how impermeable the fronds can be. If you’re building a temporary structure, remember to keep the thicker part of the spines for posts.
If you fancy yourself the arts and crafts type, why not put your talents to the test with a palm frond basket? Weaving baskets from palm fronds is actually common practice in Belize, and the results can be spectacular. Despite looking tough to work with, palm fronds are actually surprisingly malleable, making them a great choice of material for handicrafts. It may take a bit of practice, but with time and patience, you could soon be crafting all your own produce baskets from scratch. And why stop there? Hats, bags, containers, bins… the possibilities are endless.
If you’re a keen gardener, you’ll know the value of a strong, durable stake. If you’re an amateur vampire slayer, you’ll know the same. Whether you’re fighting toothy bloodsuckers or wilting rose bushes, a few palm frond stakes are a great addition to your arsenal. Sturdy enough to support tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, and more besides, every greenhouse should have a few. Best of all, they’re easy enough to dispose of once they eventually lose their strength: simple chop them up and throw them on your flower beds for mulch.
If you’ve got more fronds than you have uses for them, there’s one thing that’s always guaranteed to get rid of them: fire. If you have a fuel stove, palm fronds offer a sustainable source of clean-burning biomass. Simply strip away the foliage before breaking the fronds into pieces. Larger pieces can be dried and stored, while the smaller chunks can act as an effective rocket fuel.
If you’ve got cattle, sheep, or any other type of livestock, you might want to consider using the fronds as part of their feed. One California-based company, Palm Silage, is so convinced of the merits of palm fronds, they’ve made a business out of them. After drying and grinding the fronds, the company mixes them with dates to turn them into an all-natural food. According to LA Times, owner and palm grower Jim Parks got the idea after seeing cows nibbling on palm fronds. Palm Silage now operates a patent-pending grinding plant in Phoenix and a second base in Thermal, near Coachella. But Parks isn’t planning to stop there. He’s convinced the process could prove a lifeline to poor farmers across the world, allowing them to convert otherwise useless palm fronds into a healthy, nutritional, and, most of all, cheap source of food for livestock.