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Hardy Palms Create a Tropical Feel

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Trachycarpus fortuneiJC Raulston Arboretum ©

Trachycarpus fortunei
JC Raulston Arboretum ©

When people think of palm trees, they envision tropical beaches and sultry climates laden with towering plants. There are some palms that grow quite well in North Carolina’s coastal plain and piedmont. With a little effort, you may just be able to grow a few palms of your own.

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. It is not hardy in North Carolina’s mountains. The JC Raulston Arboretum has several cultivars of Trachycarpus fortunei, including ‘Bulgaria,’ ‘Norfolk,’ and ‘Taylor’s Hardy’ on display in Raleigh.

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

Sabel minor Antonie van den Bos ©

Sabel minor
Antonie van den Bos ©

Our own native dwarf palmetto palm, Sabal 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. Sabal minor produces small white flowers on large branched clusters in summer. Sabal ‘Birmingham,’ commonly accepted to be a hybrid of Sabal minor, makes a nice show in the landscape as well.

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