The Perry Como Palm
(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on November 17, 2009. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may nto be able to respond to your questions.)
It all started in the very early '50s when Dad brought home our first television set. It wasn’t very pretty by today’s standards, but it was magic! I could not imagine where those people were behind that glass, those dancers and singers the likes of which I had never seen before. Could they see me? I was brave and sat myself right down in front of the TV, but my Granny Ninna pushed her chair way to the back of the room. She didn’t want those people on TV to see her.
I watched a lot of shows during the winter months, but in summer I’d rather be outside roaming the mountains, where the magic of TV was forgotten. Except on Sunday nights. Perry Como was my favorite of all entertainers, and I couldn’t wait to see his show every single Sunday night.
I was only about 8 years old, and I don’t know what there was about Perry that appealed to a little girl, but he sure made my heart pound. If I could have crawled into that little black and white television set with him, I would have.
One Sunday night, the sponsor told us if we sent in some small amount of money, Perry would send us a potted palm of our very own. I grabbed my mother and told her I had to have that Perry Palm. I don’t remember how long the ad ran, but in an act of pure frustration, and in order to shut me up, my mother gave me the money and told me to order it myself.
I did. I spent hours writing that little letter, addressing it, and getting it in the mail. There were no credit cards in those days, and an 8 year old had no bank account, so I sent cash through the mail. I’m sure that cash was hard to come by, but I rarely asked for much, and I always did my chores. I never had an allowance, I didn’t even know the meaning of the word, but Mom gave me the money, and I sent it to Perry Como. I had to have that palm.
Weeks passed, but one day my dad brought the mail in. A small package was addressed to me. I was so excited, my Perry Palm had arrived. As I remember, it was very tiny, but it was rooted in soil in a wooden container much like a tightly woven strawberry basket and wrapped in burlap.
I had already prepared a large clay pot, filled it with mountain soil, and had watered it every day while I waited for the Perry Palm. I looked and looked for a letter from Perry in the package, but I was sadly disappointed. It only contained the palm.
“That thing won’t grow in the mountains,” scoffed my dad, “that sure was a waste of money!”
His words didn’t bother me one bit, and I planted my Perry Palm in my prepared damp mountain soil. I set it in the window of my room, where it got the afternoon sun.
Time passed, and Perry Palm and I grew together till he was almost as big as I was. He needed new pots along the way, and the only problem with that were the spikes that were along the base of each of his fronds. There were many tears and much blood shed every time I changed his pot. But Perry was worth it.
Perry Palm went with me when I went away to college, then we moved to my first apartment, my first home, and finally we both moved to the far western end of the state. By the time Perry was very nearly 40 years old, it occurred to me that he had not grown as tall as I had, and he wasn’t producing new leaves every year, and the gray I began to see on his fronds might not be old age, but instead, a disease. That was the beginning of Perry’s demise, because there was nothing I could do to save him. I buried him one summer evening in the back yard. People in Kentucky knew very little about palm trees in those days, so there was no cure for Perry. It was a sad time.
In the following years I looked for another Perry Palm, but even the nurseries knew nothing by that name. I thought of him this year when I began the struggle to bring my house plants inside, and I wondered, now that I had access to our PlantFiles, if I could possibly find him again. Our writers have their own expertise, so with a bit of trepidation, I contacted our resident Dave’s Garden palm expert, Geoff Stein, known here as palmbob.
It was a little embarrassing to write to him. What would I say? “Dear Geoff, I am trying to find a Perry Como Palm.” No, that would never do, so I described the plant to him, telling him the year I received it, and asking if he thought maybe he could help me identify it. We talked back and forth for the better part of a weekend. Could it be this, could it be that, ‘well maybe’, I’d say. That was the weekend I lived in PlantFiles, checking out every palm palmbob mentioned.
In the meantime, one of our readers commented on a thread attached to my houseplant article. She mentioned that she had a pygmy palm she would like to get rid of. As it happened, she lived only a few miles from me, so I took her up on it. I haven’t had a palm tree since Perry, so this was an opportunity I didn’t want to miss. If it even vaguely resembled Perry, that palm was going to be mine! I met her in our WalMart parking lot, on a cool fall morning last week, and peeking up at me from the rear seat of her car was my Perry Palm.
I didn’t cry, but I think I squeaked a little. He is absolutely gorgeous, and just as I remembered him, sharp spines and all.
Phoenix roebelenii, a pygmy date palm, that’s what he is. It’s also what palmbob told me he might be. He can’t be planted outside here in my zone, it’s much too cold in winter, but I have a south facing window, so he’ll be very happy there.
If I had known his proper name it wouldn’t have taken me so long to find him. You can only imagine the looks I received from nursery owners when I asked for a Perry Como palm.
He’s home now, right where he belongs, and isn’t it strange that just when I was searching for him, he was looking for a new home. Was it only a week or so ago I promised myself no more houseplants, but then that was before Perry came back into my life. Now if only I could share this news with Perry Como, I bet he’d be real happy for me.
Thanks Freda, my new DG friend! I promise I’ll take very good care of him. And Palmbob, thank you for all your help, and for taking my search for my Perry Palm seriously.
The thumbnail photo is by Happenstance, the small young potted palm is by kris_achar, the third is a photo by palmbob, and the fourth is by plantladylin. These photos can be found in Plant Files, and thanks to all the photographers for providing them. The last photo is of my own new 'Perry Palm'. And to DG member 31537, thank you, Perry is now trimmed and repotted and happily living in the southwest facing window of my den, along with one ficus, a Norfolk pine, one rubber plant, a small aloe, a pot of pothos, and a tiny bit of catnip. It is a jungle in here!