Norm Scott stands next to the base of the Corypha utan, or buri palm, growing in his yard.

Tree’s blossoming
marks its end

A palm tree that is 75 feet tall
has grown in Lanikai for 27 years

In about 15 months, Norm Scott of Lanikai will have to chop down his 75-foot-tall "friend."

It will break his heart.

After all, he grew the giant palm tree from a seedling about 27 years ago.

The tree will reach the end of its life cycle, and it will be necessary to remove the tree before the strong winds blowing in from Kailua Bay topple its rotting trunk onto his house or his neighbor's, Scott said.

The Corypha utan, or buri palm, is "unusual in the world of the plant kingdom" in that it blooms only once at the end of its life, and its flower structure (the top section that produces the branches) is reputed to be the largest among plants. The flower structure of Scott's tree is 12 to 15 feet high and 17 to 19 feet in diameter, and easily dominates the other 80 or so palms on his quarter-acre lot.

The normal life expectancy of this species is 30 to 80 years, so Scott's tree will die at a young age. The tree is now at the end of its flowering stage and has started to bear fruit the size of marbles. The palm tree will die after all the fruit -- about 250,000 to 350,000 pieces -- has fallen.

Scott estimates that the other corypha palms on Oahu -- about 40 -- will not reach their blooming stage for another 20 years. Those other palms came from the same 1975 seed batch imported by Foster Gardens, or within five years of it, he said.

A flowering Corypha utan, or buri palm, grows in the yard of Norm Scott in Lanikai.

About 35 are growing in the Hoomaluhia Botanical Gardens in Kaneohe, and they "are not even close to the level of growth that my tree is ... about half the size and smaller," Scott said. (The tree, planted as a sacred landmark to identify nearby religious structures in tropical Asia, normally reaches a maximum of 60 to 80 feet.)

If Scott sounds like a proud parent, he feels like one.

"The tree just took off. I kinda feel like I gave it birth," Scott said.

He has never fertilized it, but he did install a sprinkler system. And he always talked to it, basically asking, "How are you today?"

During a 20-year span, Scott went back and forth from the mainland to conduct business, and whenever he returned, the tree would "always welcome me with a new surprise, either explosive growth or something unexpected. It (always) blew me away, the way the tree had grown so much," said the semiretired Realtor.

If there is any comfort in the corypha's demise, the tree will live on through the abundant fruit that Scott will propagate and give away. And, of course, he will plant one of its offspring in his back yard -- this time, farther away from his house.

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