Home > Great Big Greenhouse Blog > April 2013 > I'm (coco)Nuts for Palm Trees

I'm (coco)Nuts for Palm Trees

Nothing says “the tropics” like a palm tree against the sky at sunset. Palm trees are a great source of happiness for me, and one of the main draws for moving to Florida or points south! I love warm weather, hate the cold (snow is for postcards), and love everything about Florida except the mosquitoes. Don’t get me wrong…Virginia is beautiful…friends and family all here…born and raised, etc. But really, palm trees!
Every once in while, a customer comes in looking for palm trees to put around their swimming pool for the summer. You know, the long, coconut-bearing palm trees that swoop out over the ocean from the island shore. We have those here. Just the top, leafy part, of course! They are sometimes disappointed when they see our baby palms with hardly a trunk in sight. 
But these young trees have their own beauty. They are usually symmetrical and graceful in habit, and certainly offer a distinct look compared to our native trees. And there are quite a few species that make great houseplants. Most will require bright light or even a little direct sun, but there are a few that are tolerant of our mostly dim interiors. Palms have small root systems for their sizes, so do not overpot, and they also require good drainage. 
It is also important to understand that palm trees do not grow like our native woody trees and shrubs. All new growth on a palm comes from the top of the trunk (the apical meristem). If you try to cut the trunk back, to control height for example, no new growth will emerge, and the plant will die as the older fronds age and drop off. Most indoor palms will eventually outgrow your space, although there are a few dwarf varieties that may never exceed 6 to 8 feet in height. With rare exception, palms do not “branch” off of the trunk, although they may sucker just at the base or just below ground. 
Decorators love the Kentia Palm (Howea forsteriana), with its tall gracefully arching fronds. They only need moderate light, and too much sun will result in lighter green leaves instead of the preferred dark green color. Another beautiful palm is the Lady Palm (Rhapis excelsa), also slow-growing and a little lower-light-tolerant. It’s a clump grower with a bushy appearance and dark green foliage. And a third moderate to lower-light-tolerant palm is the Bamboo Palm (Chamaedorea erumpens), another clump grower with tall slender trunks resembling bamboo. The Reed Palm (C. seifrizii) has the same habit with narrower leaves.
Three more moderate to lower light palms are the Cat Palm (Chamaedorea cataractarum), the Fishtail Palm (Caryota mitis), and the Metal Palm or “Mini Fishtail” (Chamaedorea metallica). The Cat Palm has a nice dark green color and a slightly wider spread than the Kentia Palm. You either love or hate the Fishtail Palm, with its ragged fish-fin like leaves. Its growth habit is wide and wild. One of my favorites is the little (under 5 feet) Metal Palm, which has semi-split metallic-blue leaves.
For moderate to bright locations, you might try the Majesty Palm (Ravenea rivularis), Triangle Palm (Dypsis decaryi), or Dwarf Date Palm (Phoenix roebelinii). The Majesty Palm’s fronds are a little more stiffly arching than the Kentia, with a slightly shaggy appearance. The Triangle Palm is named for its three-sided trunk, and the fronds have a thick mid-rib that arches up and then curls slightly downward at the tips, its gray-green leaves accenting the unusual habit. A very slow-growing, feathery-leaved palm, the “Roebelini” makes an attractive potted plant when young. Then there is the ubiquitous “Parlor Palm” famous in dish gardens (Neanthe bella elegans), a bushy little palm that only grows to about five feet and is tolerant of most light conditions.
Higher light palms that do their best in some direct sun include the Chinese Fan Palm (Livistonia chinensis), which makes a pretty patio plant; Areca Palm (Dypsis lutescens), a clump grower that tends to be inexpensive and so can be used seasonally, although it will also live in an east- or west-facing window; and the Windmill Palm (Trachycarpus fortunei) is an attractive, stiff-leaved fan palm that is also hardy in our area when planted in a protected location. 
If you’re lucky enough to have a conservatory, you can enjoy some beautiful and exotic specimens, at least until they reach a mature height (we have had all of these in our greenhouse at one time or another.) The Nobel Palm (Bismarkia nobilis) has gorgeous stiff light blue-green palmate leaves that are very showy. Butia capitata has pretty blue-green feathery recurving fronds and Old Man Palm (Coccothrinax crinita) has a wooly trunk topped with rounded green fans. The Sealing Wax Palm (Cyrtostacys renda) is a clumping, feathery palm with bright red crownshafts (upper trunks). And then there are some Licuala palms like the Ruffled Fan Palm (L. ramsayi) with large wide circular pleated fans and the Spiny Licuala (L. spinosa) with similar circular leaves broken into about 20 segments. And two more out of the more than 2500 known species of palm: the Fiji Fan Palm (Pritchardia pacifica) with a short thick trunk and giant stiff fan-shaped leaves; and one of my favorites, just for weirdness, the Stilt Palm (Verschaffeltia splendida), a feathery palm whose dark trunks perch atop dark stilt-like roots with leaf stalks covered in black spiny prickles. Next time you’re in our greenhouse, take a stroll through the palm area and see if the palms don’t make you happy too!
Posted: 4/12/2013 by Margot | with 0 comment(s)
Filed under: MargotGunn, TheGreatIndoors
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