Although there are more than 2,000 species of palm trees, the jelly, or Pindo, palm is an easily identifiable and dramatic evergreen tree, which came to Alabama by way of Brazil. Its single, stout trunk, which can grow up to 18 inches in diameter, is covered in rough bark. At its top, a high canopy of silvery, shimmering foliage is concentrated in a distinctive crown. That large ball is made up of blue-green fronds — each 5 to 10 feet long — which sinuously bend in toward the trunk. Palms with this unique type of fronds are known as pinnate, or feather palms, because each shoot resembles a bird’s pin feather. In addition to its beauty, this tree offers enticingly delicious fruit, perfect for making jelly, hence its nickname.
Where to Plant
A slow-growing plant, the jelly palm prefers climates like warm, sunny coastal Alabama. It particularly thrives when planted in a drier spot with sandy soil. When situated in a shadier location, its fronds tend to grow longer, giving it a more graceful appearance than those growing in full sun. The hearty palm has some tolerance to drought due to its deep root system, but it also favors soil high in organic matter that offers good drainage. Under ideal conditions, jelly palms can be expected to live for 40 years or more. For this reason, they are commonly used in landscaping for cemeteries and public parks in coastal regions. They also offer ample privacy screening and may be grown in large containers as well.
Never plant a jelly palm near a deck or walkway. When the fruit falls, you’ll have a sticky mess.
How to Maintain
A typical jelly palm can grow approximately 6 inches per year in height and, at maturity, it may reach 20 feet or taller. As its older fronds fade and die, they tend to remain on the trunk for several years before they finally detach, leaving ragged, upright 6- to 10-inch frond bases that may be pruned. Be careful though: Coarse black spines rise along the palm’s stems so those should be avoided, as they may cause injury. However, if this dieback is carefully pruned off, the palm will remain impressive, and any resulting scars on the trunk will only enhance the aesthetic of the tree. Otherwise, the jelly palm is a relatively low-maintenance option and remains a good choice for attracting bees and butterflies to a garden.
How to Harvest and Jellify
In the spring, this palm boasts fragrant, showy flowers, ranging from yellow to orange to burgundy in color. The blooms release a pleasant, fruity fragrance that can instantly transport you to the tropical, sunny place of your dreams. Likewise, its fruit, often called palm dates, has a flavor that tastes like “apple transforming to tart, tropical flavors.” Simultaneously sweet and tart, there are hints of mango, papaya, pineapple and even coconut in the mix. When these luscious fruits begin falling from the trees in summer, it is time to gather what drops and harvest the rest. The texture is quite fibrous so the fruit is sometimes chewed for the juice and spit out like sugar cane or fermented to make wine. However, since it also contains an ample amount of pectin, it is ideal for making jelly.
Palm Fruit Jelly
Makes 4 Jars
- 3 quarts jelly palm (sometimes called Pindo) fruit
- 1 package dry pectin
- juice of 1 lemon
- 1/2 teaspoon butter
- 5 cups granulated sugar
1. Choose the freshest jelly palm fruit you can find. Clean it under warm water to remove dirt and debris.
2. Add fruit to a large pot of water. The water should rise a few inches above the fruit. Bring water and fruit to a boil, reduce heat to medium and cook for 1 hour.
3. Allow fruit to cool completely. Using a large strainer over a large bowl, pour the fruit and juice through the strainer into the bowl to catch and remove the fruit pits and pieces.
4. In a large cooking pot, add 5 cups of the fruit juice, pectin and lemon juice. Mix ingredients and bring to a boil.
5. Add butter and sugar to the boiling mixture. Stir until butter melts and sugar dissolves. Turn the temperature down to medium and cook for 15 minutes. Monitor the mixture carefully to ensure it does not boil over or scorch.
6. Let cool and pour the jelly into sterilized canning jars. Allow the jelly to set for 5 to 10 minutes.
7. Add the canning lid and ring to each jar. Place the jars in a pot filled with 4 inches of water. Heat the water with the jars in it. When you hear a popping noise, the jars are sealed. Store in a cool, dry area.
Dooley Berry is a Master Gardener, a cook who is ever learning and a writer of numerous articles in newspapers and lifestyle magazines. She lives, gardens and writes with her husband, Scott, in Spanish Fort.