At the beginning of August, we’d occupied our house for almost a year, and we’d never seen a roach on our property, inside or out. Not a single one. Then the Great Roachapocalypse went down on our front lawn. As of that moment, the lawn’s days were numbered.
It’s hard for me to admit this, because roaches, but the event was your proverbial blessing in disguise. We never liked the lawn. It was Bermuda grass, and it irked me to think we were wasting water in the desert to keep it green. Mowing it took time we didn’t have, and even when freshly-mowed, the grass looked ragged. Getting rid of the lawn sat high on our list of things to do when we felt we could afford it. The roaches simply expedited the undertaking. Let me tell you, it’s amazing what you can suddenly “afford” when a thousand sewer roaches start swarming in a cloud above your lawn.
We were instructed to have our palm tree trimmed first. Not only was it badly in need of it, but it was suspected that the droves of sewer roaches had been lurking beneath the palm tree’s fronds. That’s probably exactly what they were doing… keeping to themselves under the palm fronds, waiting for our sprinklers to come on so they could skitter down and frolic in the glorious, cool oasis that was the sprinkler water puddled where the lawn dipped toward the metal plate covering the water main.
So we had the palm tree trimmed and we were progressing toward the goal of a grass-free front yard when we were unnerved anew. Because astonishingly, the horror story that began with the Great Roachapocalypse continued during the front yard conversion process, when we learned things from our landscaper. Specifically, we learned about a manner of death that I’d never heard of before, an unfathomable manner of death that I wouldn’t wish on anyone: Death by palm tree.
Did you know that the most common way to die while trimming a palm tree is to get murdered by the tree, itself? Neither did we. I listened, aghast, as our landscaper described the phenomenon, an instance of which she’d actually witnessed.
“The dead fronds on the underside fell on him and pinned him to the tree trunk. That’s what happens. You get suffocated.” She made a motion with her hands to demonstrate a palm tree’s fronds slapping downward, like when you collapse an umbrella.
That’s what happens. The fronds clap down, and the tree-trimmer is swallowed up. By the palm tree. My mind veered to the image of a palm tree as a monstrous, upside-down Venus Fly Trap, which, in that case, would be a Venus Human Trap.
Of course, I had to research this atrocity. I was half-hoping to find it debunked on Snopes, even though our landscaper had seen it for herself, but I found news articles reporting such palm tree deaths in three different states, including Arizona (Arizona and California have the highest palm tree death rates). I also found an informative article penned by an experienced palm tree-trimmer by the name of Rich Magargal. In the article, Mr. Magargal describes the three most common ways that people can die while trimming a palm tree, and some preventative measures that can be taken to avoid such a demise.
Here are some quotes from the article:
“Finally, and most importantly, is the alarming and growing death rate by suffocation.
The vast majority of suffocation accidents are the result of fronds sliding down, or sloughing, onto the climber. Just a few feet of fronds can instantly and completely immobilize a climber. There is absolutely nothing he or she can do to remove them because their entire body is forced down and against the palm trunk with hundreds of pounds of pressure. The force of the fronds is primarily on the head of the climber, forcing the chin into the chest. This is how suffocation occurs. Take a moment to put your hands behind your head and pull your head forward bringing your chin in contact with your chest. Notice how little pressure is required to make breathing impossible. Now, imagine several hundred additional pounds of weight on your head and picture yourself under the skirt of fronds 50 feet in the air.”
This already far exceeds my capacity for imaginative comprehension, BUT THEN the author goes on to say:
“Remember, when a climber is working under the skirt, the fronds hang down to around his or her knees. Also note that it is much darker and cooler underneath, so every manner of creature having two to eight legs can be present with you.”
The only true phobia I have other than roachaphobia is claustrophobia. I’m also an anti-fan of heights.
So I’m reading this article and imagining that I’m trapped high up on a palm tree, pinned beneath a hundred pounds of dead fronds with my neck bent down and suffocating to death while covered in huge roaches, and I die a little bit inside, like some of my cells are withering in a sympathy death for my imaginary worst-nightmare self, and I’m SO GLAD AND GRATEFUL that we were able to have our palm tree trimmed, our lawn torn out, and a flat bed of gravel put in its place.
This is the gravel we chose:
(I love how she arranged those samples for me!)
Here’s how it looks:
We now have a flat bed of gravel that will be inhospitable to roaches when they come back with the heat next summer. There will be no water there to attract them, and nowhere for them to hide. THE YARD IS BEAUTIFUL.
See that mark on the ground on the left? Here’s a close-up:
This would be what attracted the roaches when it was hot and our Bermuda grass was being watered. The water was collecting here on this plate. Our landscaper created that border around it before she put in the gravel.
Enjoy some pics of I took of random palm trees with deadly frond skirts on full display:
The tree on the right shows the most dangerous scenario for a palm tree-trimmer, with its loose fronds hanging down. As Mr. Magargal says:
“There is a lack of knowledge about sloughing. At any point along the trunk of a fan palm it is natural for the fronds to come loose and remain near the trunk, unattached but woven together in a skirt. When the skirt drops nothing can survive beneath it. Even experienced arborists miss the potential of sloughing. Usually, if a palm is going to slough off it may occur as low as 25 to 30 feet from the ground.”
We still have a small patch of grass in the backyard, but there were no roaches on that lawn, because there’s no dipping-down point to collect water back there. We’re keeping the grass there for now.
Those palm trees, though. I’ll never look at them the same again. They’re full of surprises. Our landscaper pointed out some hummingbird eggs she found in ours:
So that, I hope, is the end of the story as far as we’re concerned. If you have a loved one who trims palm trees, please share Mr. Magargal’s article with him or her. Let’s save our palm tree trimmers!