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HALIFAX – An unlikely experiment conducted six years ago to see if palm trees could survive Halifax’s fickle weather ended this spring when the last two surviving trees failed to bloom.

HALIFAX – An unlikely experiment conducted six years ago to see if palm trees could survive Halifax’s fickle weather ended this spring when the last two surviving trees failed to bloom.

The city initially planted nine trees in four parks on the Dartmouth side of Halifax Harbour in 2018, selecting varieties known to grow in more northern climates in Asia, such as Japan and China, or in high-altitude areas such as northern India.

The trees included the windmill palm and the miniature chusa palm, native to parts of Asia, the needle palm, native to the southern United States, and the pindo palm, native to South America.

“Our winters have been a little harsh for them,” said city spokesman Ryan Nearing. “There has been some success, some of them have survived at least a few winters.”

By the end of the 2021/22 winter, five trees had died despite various attempts to protect them, Nearing said.

“This included surrounding the trunk with chicken wire or wooden boxes,” he said. “Some leaves were removed from the trees and repotted in greenhouses during the winter to see if that might preserve them a little better.”

Two trees died early in the experiment and were later replaced, although these trees also did not survive. The last trees – two windmill palms – were declared dead in April.

And while there are no plans for a similar experiment in the future, Nearing says the city continues to look for ways to bring biodiversity into its green spaces.

“There are no concrete plans for palm trees, but our urban gardeners are always exploring possible new plants and new species that could be introduced in our greenhouses,” he said, adding that the park areas chosen to grow the palm trees now house hardier tree species that can survive the winter.

Halifax has had varying degrees of success with exotic species such as coffee and pineapple plants. In the summer of 2018, an agave managed to briefly bloom in the city’s famous public gardens, where it had been transplanted after being grown in a municipal greenhouse.

Palm trees are now successfully grown in Vancouver, where average temperatures are milder than in the largest city in Atlantic Canada.

Lord Abbey, an associate professor of horticulture at Dalhousie University in Truro, New York, said the Halifax palm experiment was “a good idea” but the results did not surprise him.

“Some (palms) can survive temperatures as low as -10°C, but in a climate like Nova Scotia, where temperatures can drop much lower and there are large temperature fluctuations, it’s more difficult,” Abbey said.

There are zone classifications for plant hardiness. Abbey said palms can survive in zones seven through eleven, while the zone that Halifax belongs to is zone six.

Previous experiments have shown that tropical plants and trees can be grown in northern climates, but this is difficult and requires the support of greenhouses.

“It’s worth a try, but it has to be done under research conditions,” Abbey said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 10, 2024.

Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press

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