Thursday, June 15, 2017

Needle Palm: A Cold-Hardy Palm with Hot Points

Needle Palm (Rhapidophyllum hystrix)

Gardeners are known for returning home with botanical souvenirs. Many of the plants are doomed (they know it before they buy them) but can’t resist. If you want a memento of the subtropics in your own back yard, and you want it to thrive, try Needle Palm.

Needle Palm (Rhapidophyllum hystrix), native to Florida and other areas of the southeast, is reliably cold-hardy through USDA climate zone 7. Some growers report success in colder areas. It’s more like a shrub than tree, with a dense, mounding habit, growing about twice as wide as its height. The typical size of a mature Needle Palm is four to six feet high by eight to twelve feet wide.

Needle palm foliage
Needle Palm is fairly uncommon even in its native habitat. Outside of that, you’ll own bragging rights for miles around.

Don’t let its name put you off. The evergreen, cut-leaf fronds are not harmful. In fact, the tips of the leaflets are blunt, as though they had been snipped. The long, sharp needles are at the base of the plant protecting the inconspicuous flowers and fruit.

Needle palm needles
The needles do offer a significant benefit, however. They discourage through-traffic. Intruders who encounter them will get the point and hotfoot it out of there. If you're looking for a plant that offers a degree of crime prevention - call it "homeland security"- this is the palm for you.

Needle Palm prefers slightly moist, well-drained soil. Nevertheless, it is somewhat drought-tolerant when established. Space 6 feet to 10 feet apart in full sun to light shade. Soil should be moist to well-drained, pH from 6.1 to 7.8. Allow soil to dry between watering.

Pruning can be done at any time to remove damaged fronds. Fertilize with a balanced fertilizer from late spring to midsummer. Needle Palm is very resistant to insects and disease, deer resistant and salt tolerant.

Needle Palm is excellent for native plant collections, coastal and tropical gardens, screens and hedges. Suitable native companion plants include Cut-leaf Coneflower, Goldenrod, Wax Myrtle, Inkberry Holly, Red Buckeye, Sensitive Fern, Allegheny Pachysandra, and Partridge Berry.

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