The Palm's Sexy Sway

Cuban poet José Martí compared Miami's most beloved cycad, the palm tree, to forlorn girlfriends who await the return of long-lost lovers. In the Miami context, they'd wait for exiles to return to a free Cuba. Whatever. Flanked by a row of the island nation's native royal palms, Martí's words are forever enshrined in our town at the Plaza de Cubanidad on the corner of Flagler Street and Seventeenth Avenue.

Martí, without a doubt, was a palm person. One of a breed so enamored of and obsessed with the towering monocots that they ascribe humanistic and sensual qualities to the regal beauties. On the Internet and in social clubs, palm enthusiasts are known to trade photos of their beloved trees with requests like "You got any sexy pictures?"

Be they sexy, nostalgic, or swooning, these girlfriends are the grand dames of South Florida's cultural and horticultural landscape. They set the tone for life in the subtropics and inspire poets and developers alike with their striking splendor. The sumptuous gals line many of the city's boulevards, beaches, and Publix parking lots. An Art Deco rehab without them is like a cafecito without sugar.

In many respects Miamians owe a lot to the palm tree. That is why the Miami Beach Garden Conservancy is paying tribute to the greenery with its third annual Palm Festival, a weeklong sojourn into the world of las palmas at the Miami Beach Botanical Garden. Spicing things up a bit, this year's theme will feature sexy palms of Brazil. On Saturday, March 2, the eight-day fete kicks off with an opening party dubbed A Night in Rio. Brazilieros will dance samba and shake their bundas as a palm-inspired menu is served. Paintings by artist Lisa Remeny depicting Brazilian palms and Amazonian flora will be exhibited all week.

But if your taste for Brazil remains unsatisfied, horticulturist Carl Lewis will deliver an in-depth lecture on the stately South American trees. His is just one of several presentations and events throughout the week for tree-huggers of all ages. The festivities culminate Sunday, March 10, with the largest event, the Palm Festival Fair, where visitors can take in lectures and arts-and-crafts workshops all related to palm trees, of course. Enthusiasts also can purchase rare and exotic plants at the fair's farmers' market. But plan to arrive early; the palm people surely will be out in droves. And don't forget to bring along your camera: might be the perfect opportunity to snap an image of that swinging date palm that makes your pulse quicken!

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Juan Carlos Rodriguez