A Closer Look At Needle Palm Trees

It’s about time I wrote more in depth about this incredible palm. There are many cold hardy palms out there, but Needle palm trees tend to be one of the most fascinating.

Why is that?  To start, these palms may be the most cold hardy palm tree on the planet! They have the ability to withstand brief temperature dips down to approximately -15 F with little to no damage and possibly lower with some form of protection.

Due to their tolerance for such frigid temperatures, these palms have become quite popular with enthusiasts in many areas where other palm trees wouldn’t be able to survive harsh winters.

Let’s take a closer look at this amazing palm and find out if it will be a good fit for your climate.

What Is It?

The Needle palm, known by its botanical name Rhapidophyllum Hystrix, can thrive in a wide range of growing zones across North America and Europe. They are native to the southeastern U.S. from the southern Atlantic coast and west into Alabama and Mississippi.

It is a slow growing shrubby palm getting up to approximately 6 feet in height and 5 to 6 feet in width with a very dense crown of fronds. The glossy dark green palmate fronds can reach up to 6 feet in length and emerge from several stems from a single base where they are covered in sharp needles up to 6 inches in length.  In some instances they will develop a trunk, although this can take many years to achieve.

Needle palms are dioecious, meaning that male and female flowers will grow on separate trees to make viable seed.  It is a suckering palm and propagation can also be achieved by separating the suckers and planting as separate specimens.

Where Will It Grow?

Needle palms enjoy hot, humid conditions and thrive in lowland swamps, the Needle palm is hardy down to the high zone 6 range without winter protection, although heavy damage can be expected during prolonged periods of subzero temperatures.

These palms will need to be grown in areas with hot summers to achieve optimum growth.  They can be successfully grown in areas with cooler summers, but will have a much slower growth rate making them not highly recommended for mild Mediterranean climates, however they have become popular in areas such as the Pacific Northwest of the U.S. and Northwestern Europe, but can have a tendency to struggle a bit during excessively cold winters in these same areas.

Needle palms are successfully grown throughout the midwest and northeast U.S. where heat and humidity are common during the summer months and winters at times tend to drop into the single digits and below zero.

Who Are They For?

Needle palms are an ideal choice for anyone living in areas with extreme seasonal temps where palms that prefer more moderate climates may not survive.

Due to their limited height, these palms are excellent for growing underneath taller trees in the landscape and will tolerate varying amounts of sun if kept in warm areas of your yard.  They are relatively drought tolerant and can adapt to a wide range of well draining soil types.  Needle palms will also do well in moisture rich, swampy conditions similar to their natural habitat.

Since these are wide, shrubby and dense palms with an excess of sharp needles, they can also be a good specimen for growing along property or fence lines acting as a barrier for unwanted wildlife.

Needle palms are ideal for folks wanting a slow growing palm that will not get very tall, but have the width for the palm to spread out.  They are preferable for more open areas away from walking paths such as entryways and doorways since the needles of these palms are very sharp!

Any Drawbacks?

Needle palms are relatively worry free from pests and other diseases.  They can be subject to spider mites and mealybugs, but this can be maintained with proper soil care.

While highly moisture tolerant, Needle palms can develop yellowing fronds from over watering, particularly in areas with long cool weather periods.  Over fertilizing can also cause this as well, so only fertilize twice a year if necessary, although they should do just fine with a hands off approach.

As mentioned before, these palms develop very sharp needles so great care is advised when planting near high traffic areas.  Provide ample room and when handling, be sure to wear thick gloves to avoid injury.

The Wrap Up

If you live in zone 6 or higher and always wanted a palm for your landscape, the Needle palm can be a great solution to give you that tropical look you have always wanted to achieve.

While they are very slow growing and can take several years to achieve a mature size, Needle palms are a very easy palm to grow for beginners and with very little effort, they will provide years of enjoyment of any palm enthusiast.

For more information and purchasing options, please check out the links below!

Fast Growing Trees – 3 Gal. Needle Palm

Ebay – 3 Gal. Needle Palm

1 thought on “A Closer Look At Needle Palm Trees”

  1. The Needle Palm does not really grow in the “true” Midwest and Northeast. Most large and long term plantings in the Midwest are in southern Ohio. IL, and IN. In the Northeast, one will only find Needle Palms from coastal Connecticut/Long Island south to coastal Maryland- which is really more Mid-Atlantic. Very few Needle palms survive into New York State and New England .


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