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Copyright 2005, Board of Trustees, University
?thal Yellowing Resistant Coconut Palm
by J. T. Midcap and R. D. Martyn
Green 'Malayan Dwarf'
Florida Cooperative Extension Service
Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences
University of Florida, Gainesville
The 'Malayan Dwarf'
A Lethal Yellowing Resistant Coconut Palm
by J. T. Midcap and R. D. Martyn*
The future of Florida's tall coconut palm is bleak
because it is being destroyed by the rapid spread
of the disease, lethal yellowing. Loss of the coco-
nut palm is costing homeowners considerable
money, changing the landscape and threatening
south Florida's sub-tropical image.
A substitute for the dying 'Jamaica Tall' coco-
nut palm is the 'Malayan Dwarf', which is highly
resistant to lethal yellowing as indicated by its
half century of survival in Jamaica where millions
of coconut palms already have been destroyed. In
order to maintain south Florida's sub-tropical at-
mosphere, resistant palms should be planted now
before the complete loss of the tall coconut.
The 'Malayan Dwarf' is not a true dwarf but a
semi-dwarf variety of coconut palm, Cocos nuci-
fera. Well-cared-for 'Malayan Dwarfs' grow rap-
idly and may obtain a height of 60 feet in Florida,
although their growth rate is slower than that of
the common 'Jamaica Tall'. Their straight trunks
are smaller in diameter and have little swelling at
the base. Their feathery fronds are shorter and
more numerous than those found on the 'Jamaica
Tall'. Flowering begins in about four years, and
smaller nuts are produced which persist on the
Three 'Malayan Dwarf' forms are available:
green, yellow, and golden (called red in Jamaica).
These forms are recognized by the color of the
petiole and fruit. Golden and yellow palms have
an attractive golden cast to the foliage and bright
yellow nuts which are highly ornamental. The
petiole and rachis of the'leaves are orange-yellow
in the golden form, and light yellow in the yellow
*Woody Ornamental Horticulture Specialist and Plant Pathology
Research Associate, respectively.
sun and are tolerant of a wide variety of soils, in-
cluding saline conditions.
The palm may be transplanted at any time as
long as it is frequently watered until it becomes
well established. Planting at the beginning of the
rainy season takes advantage of natural rainfall,
thereby reducing the amount of supplemental
water needed. Young transplants of Malayan
coconuts require the same care as any other nur-
sery plant. To prevent separation of the plant
from the nut or damage to the roots seedlings
should not be lifted by the top.
When transplanting, carefully remove the plant
from the container to avoid disturbing the roots.
The plant should be set into an adequate sized hole
at the same depth at which it was growing in the
container. Deep planting often results in rotting
of the stem base and loss of the plant. Organic
amendments such as peat should be mixed with
the soil to provide more water and nutrient reten-
tion. The amended soil is used to fill the hole
around the plant. Finally, a shallow basin three
feet across should be constructed around the plant
and a mulch applied to the soil surface. The mulch
will restrict weed growth and help retain soil
moisture. Competition from weeds or grass around
the base of a young tree can severely stunt the
growth of the palm.
The young plant should be watered when trans-
planting is completed, and watered frequently dur-
ing the first six months. After six months, at
least one inch of water should be supplied weekly.
Palms planted from containers can be fertilized
immediately. The fertilizer should be broadcast
over the area under the canopy of leaves, which
represents the spread of roots. Watering the fer-
tilizer into the root zone is helpful but working the
fertilizer into the soil is not recommended. Fer-
tilizer recommendations vary with the size of the
palm and amount of water applied. The larger
the palm and the more water given, the greater
the amount of fertilizer that should be used.
Young palms with no clear trunk can be fer-
tilized three to four times a year. Each tree needs
2 to 8 ounces of 6-6-6 or similar analysis per ap-
plication. Fertilizers in which part of the nitro-
gen is derived from organic sources are recom-
mended when fertilizing only three or four times
a year. Fertilizer with minor elements should be
applied at least once each year for all palms. A
commercial palm fertilizer containing minor ele-
ments can be used for all applications.
These young palms can be fertilized on a month-
ly basis at the rate of 1 to 3 ounces of 6-6-6 per
tree and per application. The rate will need to be
reduced by applying fertilizer every other month
during the dry winter unless heavy watering is
Older palms with a clear trunk need one pound
of 6-6-6 per inch of trunk diameter three or four
times a year. Diameter should be measured above
any basel swelling of the trunk.
When 'Malayan Dwarf' palms are properly
watered and fertilized, only a few pesf problems
occur. Pests which attack the Malayan palm in-
clude the palm aphid, scale and mites. Leaf spot
disease also can become a problem. These pests
can cause serious damage and should be controlled
when heavy infestations occur.
Bud rot disease can be a serious problem on
young and old trees. It is thought to be associ-
ated with cool moist weather. Your county agent
can recommend proper pest control measures.
Malayan palms are sensitive to such hormone
type herbicides as 2,4-D. The fronds stop grow-
ing and individual leaflets remain fused together.
In time the palm develops a slight lean and can die.
Golden 'Malayan Dwarf'
Caution must be used to prevent exposing the
Malayan palm to these herbicides.
Now is the time to plant a 'Malayan Dwarf' to
insure the continued existence of the coconut palm
in Florida. All three color forms of the 'Malayan
Dwarf' coconut palm are highly resistant to lethal
yellowing. The 'Malayan Dwarf' is not a true
dwarf and rapid growth is achieved by proper
watering and fertilization. Pure line 'Malayan
Dwarfs' are readily available through your local
The green 'Malayan Dwarf' has bright green
fronds and nuts and light green petioles, making it
an outstanding ornamental plant. Young trees of
the green form grow at a slightly more rapid rate
than the other two forms. All three forms of the
'Malayan Dwarf' are highly resistant to lethal
'Malayan Dwarf' palms grown by Florida nurs-
erymen are from imported Jamaican seed which
produces abundant golden and yellow forms. The
green form is less abundant. The 'Malayan Dwarf'
is predominantly self-pollinated, but hybrids can
occur with other coconut palms, such as the "Ja-
maica Tall'. Hybrids can be recognized by their
slower germination, greater vigor, and yellow-
green petiole. These hybrids should be discarded
because they are not resistant to lethal yellowing.
Green 'Malayan', Hybrid, Golden 'Malayan'
Growing plants from seed collected from bear-
ing Florida 'Malayan Dwarf' coconut palms is not
recommended since they may be susceptible hy-
brids. Pure line 'Malayan Dwarf' coconut palms
are available through local nurseries.
'Malayan Dwarfs' are sensitive to low tempera-
tures and should be planted only in south Florida,
(north to Ft. Myers Beach on the west coast and
Stuart on the east coast). They grow best in full
The authors gratefully acknowledge tl
tance of the personnel of the Division of
dustry, the ARC at Ft. Lauderdale, the
Industry Board of Jamaica, and numerous
This public document was promulgat .,
annual cost of $2016.92, or 3.36 c'
copy to inform the general public of
resistant 'Malayan Dwarf' coconut pal-
replacement for the susceptible tall ce
palm in south Florida.
COOPERATIVE EXTENSION WORK IN AGRICULTURE AND HOME ECONOMICS
(Acts of May 8 and June 30,1914)
Cooperative Extension Service, IFAS, University of Florida
and United States Department of Agriculture, Cooperating
Joe N. Busby, Dean
Single copies free to residents of Florida. Bulk rat-e
available upon request. Please submit details or
request to Chairman, Editorial Department, Institute
of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of
Florida, Gainesville, Florida 32611.