Tropical Plants

Hardy Palms Create Tropical Feel


When people think of palm trees, they envision tropical beaches. So you might be surprised to learn some palms grow quite well in the Triangle. With a little effort, you may just be able to grow a few palms of your own. 

windamere palm

Windamere Palm/photo JC Raulston Arboretum

The windmill palm (Trachycarpus fortunei), which is native to the Himalayan region, has a reputation for being one of the world’s hardiest palms. It has an amazing ability to survive, even when completely defoliated. It grows to about 40 feet tall and develops a solitary trunk covered with matted fiber. The palmate leaves of the windmill palm can grow to 4 feet wide and are deeply divided with drooping tips. It should be planted on a well-drained site that is protected from winds. It performs best when planted in partial shade as an understory plant or where it receives afternoon shade. The JC Raulston Arboretum has several cultivars if you want to see one before you plant, including ‘Bulgaria’, ‘Norfolk’, and ‘Taylor’s Hardy’.

Another hardy palm native to the Himalayans is newer to the landscape trade so it can be difficult to find. The windamere palm (Trachycarpus latisectus) grows fast once it develops a trunk and can attain heights of 40 feet and a trunk diameter of 6 inches to 1 foot. This palm has large, leathery leaves with very wide leaflets and faint rings on the light-gray trunk.

Dwarf Palmetto/photo JC Raulston Arboretum

Dwarf Palmetto/photo JC Raulston Arboretum

The native dwarf palmetto palm (Sabel minor) is easier to find at local nurseries. This evergreen palm has a slow growth rate and reaches 10 feet tall at maturity. It prefers light shade and moist to wet soil, but tolerates considerable drought. Sabel minor produces small white flowers on large branched clusters in summer. Sabel ‘Birmingham’, commonly accepted to be a hybrid of Sabel minor, makes a nice show in the landscape as well.

No matter what your summer travel schedule looks like, by including a few hardy palms in the landscape, you can have that tropical feel year-round.

Source: Extension Gardener, N.C. Cooperative Extension

Featured image – ‘Taylor’s Hardy’ palm / JC Raulston Arboretum

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