Palms Explained

A guide to the many varieties of palms that are found around Southern California!

Palm trees (belonging to the Arecaceae or Palmaceae family) are the perfect way to add a tropical touch or exotic accent to your yard. Palms have been cultivated by people for over 5,000 years and in many cultures they symbolize victory, peace, and fertility. Palms are a great way to evoke reminders of vacations and the tropics, but they actually can grow in many different climates. There are over 2,500 species of palms, categorized by variations in trunk, leaf structure (feather vs fan), growth rate, size, cold/drought tolerance, leaf color, fruit/flower production, and typical climate. Palms vary in their requirements for light, soil, moisture, and temperature requirements, but generally, palms need soil with good drainage and usually should be watered at least once a week. To prune, remove the dead fronds (leaves) when they are completely brown. The roots need special care because they branch very little and do not increase in size with the growth of the above ground tree. Because the roots don't thicken like on other trees, palms are unlikely to damage sidewalks and utilities. However, palms require good fertilization because they get most of their nutrients from the top soil. They have a single growing point at the top of the trunk called the terminal bud, which, if injured, may result in death of the entire tree. Common varieties of palm include: 

  • BLUE HESPER: (Brahea Armata) is famous, hardy, native to Mexico, with stiff fan-shaped leaves. It tolerates both partial and full sun, either heat or cold, and is drought tolerant. Slow growing to 40 feet.
  • CANARY ISLAND DATE: (Phoenix Canariensis) is a very popular and very large, majestic palm. It is extremely hardy and tolerant of most well-drained soils. Has low water needs and a moderate growth rate (60-foot height and 30-50 foot spread)
  • DATE: (Phoenix Dactylifera) This variety is very adaptable to numerous climates but only produces its famous dates in hot, dry regions. It is salt-tolerant, making it a good choice for coastal planting. Date palms like bright sun but can grow even in poor soil. Their deep roots like regular irrigation, although it is a slow-growing tree, taking about 10 years to reach 15 feet tall.
  • JELLY: (Butia Capitata) With its unique blue-green leaves an small stature, this palm is easy to recognize and is an essential staple for any exotic landscape. Hardy and beautiful, it can survive temperatures down to 10F, but is also drought tolerant and thrives in both partial shade and full sun. It has a moderate growth rate, reaching heights between 10-20 feet. 
  • KENTIA: (Howea Forsteriana) Perfect for Southern California, this elegant palm looks great in groups and loves partial shade. It grows slowly, to about 40-60 feet.
  • KING: (Archontophoenix Cunninghamiana) Another popular species, this fast-growing palm is extremely easy to grow in either full sun or shade. It requires only moderate water and grows moderately fast to about 40 feet.
  • MAJESTY: (Ravenea Rivularis) With its feather-shaped leave, and high water needs, the Majesty Palm is great in containers or clay soil. It tolerates both full sun and shade and grows slowly to about 25 feet.
  • MEXICAN FAN: (Washingonia Robusta) This striking palm grows over 100 feet, typically along a street or next to very tall buildings. It grows well in full sun and can withstand wind, heat, and cold. It has low water needs but a fast growth rate.
  • QUEEN: (Arecastrum Romanzoffianum) A tall, graceful tree that can reach up to 50 feet high, the Queen Palm is known for its graceful feather tops and edible orange fruit. Extremely durable, Queen Palms can grow in full sun and withstand heat, cold, and moderate watering. It has a fast growth rate, typically reaching 25-30 feet.
  • SAGO: (Cycus Revoluta) Great in shrub borders or as an accent, the Sago looks fantastic in entry areas or rock/sand gardens. Needing either full or partial sun, it is quite drought tolerant once the plant is established. Sagos have extremely slow growth to about 10 feet, with a leaf spread of 3-6 feet.
  • TRIANGLE: (Neodypsis Decaryii) Easy to grow in full sun and well-drained soil, this palm requires regular water and grows 10-15 feet high.
  • WINDMILL: (Tracycarpus Fortunei) The Windmill Palm is a great accent in small areas, particularly those with partial shade. Drought tolerant and attractive when planted in groups, the Windmill palm is hardy and tough, and can do well in containers if the drainage is good.