TEXAS PALM. The Texas palm (Sabal texana or S. mexicana), also known as Texas palmetto, Rio Grande palmetto, palma real, and palma de Micharas, is a native of the lower Rio Grande valley. It is a stocky palm that grows to a height of twenty to forty-eight feet and has large blue-green, fan-shaped leaves that form a thick, rounded crown. Small white flowers produce an edible, dull-black berry that matures in the summer. The tree has gray to reddish-brown bark and soft reddish-brown wood. The Texas palm has a continuous range extending from the lower Rio Grande valley in Texas through eastern Mexico to Guatemala and to Oaxaca and perhaps farther north on the west coast of Mexico. In 1519 Alonzo Álvarez de Pineda found a forest of the palms along a river ten miles south of the site of present Brownsville; the trees were so numerous that he referred to the river, subsequently named the Rio Grande, as the Río de las Palmas. Texas palms were reported along the Rio Grande up to eighty miles inland from the Gulf of Mexico as late as 1852, but by 1925 agricultural clearing had severely reduced the number of the trees in Texas, and none was reported more than sixty miles above the Gulf. By 1986 only about 100 acres of Texas palms existed in Texas, most of them clustered in thirty-two acres of the Audubon Society's Sabal Palm Grove Sanctuary, located in Cameron County; the tree was listed as a threatened species by the Texas Organization for Endangered Species. Residents of the lower Rio Grande valley have historically found a number of uses for the Texas palm. The fruit has occasionally been sold in markets in Matamoros and Brownsville, the leaves have been used for chair seats and roof thatching, and the trunks have been used as posts for wharves. Texas palms have also been used as ornamental plants in parks and along streets in many southwestern Texas towns.
Cyrus Longworth Lundell, Sabal Texana (Renner, Texas: Texas Research Foundation, 1961). James C. McCurrach, Palms of the World (New York: Harper, 1960). Robert Vines, Trees, Shrubs, and Woody Vines of the Southwest (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1960).