Making Small Palms

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Introduction :
After taking great interest in jungle dioramas recently, I’ve come up with a good method of making small palm plants. This method is also acceptable as ferns, which are a necessity to any jungle diorama. These plants usually occupy the forest floor where trees have fallen allowing sunlight to filter through the canopy. They often have very large, spread out leaves/fronds to allow maximum sunlight exposure.

Believe it or not, this method of making palms primarily uses Australian products! I’m sure that many Aussies here at Armorama get frustrated by having to order expensive stuff from the U.S. This method also makes good use of nature (make sure the glycerine is handy!) and is relatively cheap to make compared to buying the ‘big brand’ stuff. In my honest opinion, buying photo-etched palm or fern leaves is a waste of time and money. After all, you can easily make them for yourself. I was forced to invent this method due to my very small wallet!
Materials :
  • Small fern plant. (If ferns don’t grow in your area, try making them out of aluminium foil, Armorama has a few feature articles explaining how to do this).
  • Norfolk Island Pine needles (large burs can also be used).
  • Hemp or Jute twine.
  • PVA glue.
  • Hairspray
  • Glycerine.
  • Optional: Various shades of green, brown and yellow paint.
  • Non-Optional: Imagination.
  • The Trunk :
    To make the trunk of the palm plant use pine needles from a Norfolk Island Pine tree, they are excellent. These huge 150+ foot trees grow along the coastline of Australia, New Zealand, Florida, Hawaii, South Africa and southern California. I am lucky enough to have one growing right outside my house (image #1). Simply snap small 2cm sections off a dead needle which has dropped to the ground. These are similar in structure to the bases of real palms. Stick it into a piece of polystyrene (or something similar) to make it easy to work with (image #2).
    The Foliage :
    Palm foliage can be made from several different materials. This time, I have used real ferns found in my garden (image #3). This step requires YOU to get outside and go hunting for some fern plants. They can be found in most parts of the world usually in humid places away from constant or direct sunlight. I have chosen fronds about 3cm long, making them about 1m long in 1/35 scale. Once harvested, make sure each frond is preserved with a 1:15 ratio of glycerine:water. After dunking all of the ferns (which are still on the stem) into the mix, leave the stem upright in the mix for 2-3 days (image #4). Capillary action will draw the mix into the stem which will further enhance its potential to be preserved.

    After the preservation process, it’s time to pull the fronds off the fern stem and glue them into place (image #5). Glue them into a variety of positions on the trunk, because new healthy fronds grow from the top while dying fronds droop to the bottom. In image #6, you can see that I have added a dying frond to the base. The dying effect was achieved simply by leaving the frond for a few days before preserving it. So far, it has been 2 weeks (until the time of writing this article) since this frond has been picked and it has not died any further. It has been ‘frozen in time.’
    Final Touches :
    To add to the realism of the palm, there are many things you can do to them, including adding seeds, cones, new growth etc. or repainting them to suite your individual needs. Once my palms were finished, they had not suffered any discolouration even though it has been three weeks since picking the fronds. All I have done is given the base a dark brown wash. For realism I have added some cut up Jute twine to the top of the trunk to simulate the flowering process (images #7 and 8). Many palms in their flowering process begin with seeds and greenery sprouting from the top. After flowering, these parts die off, leaving a stringy mass which lasts a few months before new growth emerges. I think some species of Sago Palms do this. After all the steps are completed, give the whole palm a spray of Hairspray to seal everything in and prevent things from coming loose.
    Conclusion :
    All up, these palms cost me about 4 cents each to make and about 2 hours in the shed. They can be adapted to suite your available products, and a bit of imagination can result in some fantastic looking plants for your scene. Now, you can either; take my advice and enjoy the overall satisfaction in making your own palms, or you can spend $20 on some mass produced plastic which takes a week to arrive from overseas. It’s your choice!
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    About the Author

    About Chas Young (youngc)

    I bought my first model kit when I was 12 years old. I began making 1:35 figures and dioramas when I stumbled across the Kitmaker Network and never looked back. My main area of interest is the Pacific war especially Australian, Japanese and British/Commonwealth subjects. I am currently hosting the H...


    For those who noticed and for Chas I'd like to apologize for accidentally putting the wrong author on the feature. Thanks to Rudi for the keen pair of eyes.
    OCT 05, 2007 - 11:56 PM
    Hey YoungC! I am from Bermuda so I know exactly what you mean about using the Norfolk Pine needles. We have plently of them here, which were imported some ages ago. Anyhow, that's a super way of making plams, and not of just usage for small palms, but also as Royal Palms, Coconut Palms, Queen Palms, I am here as I write this reply, making a Royal Palm with a very skinny Norfolk Pine needle about 13 CM long and applying your method for a Sago Palms and other small species, ie. Chinese Fan Plalm. Good show mate. I think you should patten the idea . Do you build tanks? I have an alternative to putty for building armor. Anyway, keep modelling and coming up with great ideas, give this 1 an AWARD!!!!!!
    OCT 24, 2007 - 03:43 AM
    Hi LaVince, Good to know someone has taken interest in the method! I am also experimenting with the Norfolk needle and have come up with some quite convincing designs. Wish you best of luck and hope to see some of your work in the future. My thanks go to Scott Lodder for un-muddling and finally publishing the article, no easy job! My thanks also must go to CK Tang for his inspirational work. It is an honour to be mistaken for you! Regards, Chas
    OCT 24, 2007 - 10:17 PM
    excellent article and work learned alot from it
    FEB 04, 2009 - 02:11 PM
    Woah this was quite a while ago! You are very welcome John. Just a quick note on the glycerine preserving method. When immersing the stem into the glycerine/water mix, make a fresh, diagonal cut across the stem for a maximum surface area to aid capillary action. Chas
    FEB 04, 2009 - 11:32 PM