A Closer Look at Needle Palm Trees - Needle Palm Tree

A Closer Look At Needle Palm Trees & Where They Will Survive

Needle Palm trees may be the most cold hardy palm on the planet!

Due to their tolerance for such frigid temperatures, they are very popular in areas where other palm trees won’t survive.

Let’s take a closer look at Needle palm trees and find out if they will be a good fit for your climate.


  • Cold Hardiness: Needle Palm Trees, known as Rhapidophyllum Hystrix, are highly cold hardy, surviving temperatures down to -15 F and even lower with protection.
  • Native Region: These palms are native to the southeastern U.S., including the southern Atlantic coast and parts of Alabama and Mississippi.
  • Growth and Appearance: VERY slow-growing, reaching up to 6 feet in height and width, they have glossy green palmate fronds and sharp needles up to 6 inches long.
  • Reproduction: They are dioecious, requiring both male and female trees for seed production. Propagation is possible through separating suckers.
  • Preferred Climate: Ideal in hot, humid conditions; hardy down to high zone 6 (-10F-0F). They thrive in areas with hot summers but are not suitable for cooler Mediterranean climates due to slower growth.
  • Popularity: Recently popular in regions like the Pacific Northwest of the U.S. and Northwestern Europe; however, they struggle in freezing, soggy winters.
  • Ideal for Certain Landscapes: Best for those in areas with extreme seasonal temperatures. They can be grown under taller trees and are adaptable to part or full sun.
  • Soil and Water Needs: They require well-draining soil, tolerate drought, and prefer humid conditions. They do well in swampy conditions but are susceptible to root rot in soggy, cold conditions, especially in pots.
  • Usage in Landscaping: Suitable for property borders due to sharp needles; ideal for creating a dense palm shrub.
  • Pest Resistance and Care: Resistant to most pests and diseases but can attract spider mites and mealybugs. They require careful watering and fertilizing to prevent yellowing fronds and rot.
  • Safety Precautions: Sharp needles necessitate careful placement away from walking paths and require protective gloves during handling.
  • Overall Recommendation: A good choice for those in zone 6 or higher, seeking a slow-growing, cold-hardy palm for a tropical landscape look. Suitable for beginner palm growers as well.

What Are Needle Palm Trees?

Needle Palm Trees - Needle Palm With Snow
Needle Palm With Snow

The Needle palm, known by its botanical name Rhapidophyllum Hystrix, can thrive in many 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 6 feet in height and 5 to 6 feet in width with a dense crown of fronds.

The glossy green palmate fronds can reach up to 6 feet in length, but stay low to the ground, so the palm stays short.

The fronds emerge from several stems from a single base and are covered in sharp needles that can get up to 6 inches in length. 

Needle palms will develop a trunk, but their glacier-slow growth rate can take SEVERAL years to accomplish.

Needle palms are dioecious, meaning that male and female flowers will grow on separate trees to make viable seeds.

This is important if you want to grow Needle palms yourself from seed.

You will need at least one female tree and one male tree to produce viable seed that will sprout. 

Since they are suckering palms, propagation can also be achieved by separating the suckers and planting them separately, however, this can be a difficult task if you haven’t done it before.

Where Will Needle Palms Grow?

Needle Palm In Texas
Needle Palm In Texas

Needle palms enjoy hot, humid conditions and thrive in lowland swamps.

They are hardy down to the high zone 6 range (-10F-0F) without winter protection in most cases but will get frond damage at these temps.

These palms will need to be grown in areas with hot summers to get the most out of their growth. 

Keep this in mind when shopping for a cold hardy palm.

Needle palms are already slow growing and without summer heat, this slows down even more.

For this reason, they are not highly recommended for cooler Mediterranean climates due to the lack of summer heat.

Unless you WANT an extremely slow-growing palm, it would be better to find a Needle palm that’s already a few years old and off to a head start.

Needle palms have become popular in areas such as the Pacific Northwest of the U.S. and Northwestern Europe, but can struggle during freezing winters if kept too soggy.

They are grown in areas with high humidity such as the midwest and northeast U.S.

In these areas, summers are hot enough for the Needle Palm to grow at a healthy rate, but winters usually won’t get cold enough to fry it making this palm tree something to consider if you are a midwesterner.

Who Are Needle Palms For?

Small Palm Covered In Snow
Small Needle Palm Covered In Snow

Needle palms are for anyone living in areas with extreme seasonal temps where many other palms may bite the dust.

Keep in mind that they aren’t bulletproof and can be subject to crown or root rot if kept in soggy cold conditions for too long, especially in pots.

Due to their limited height, they are excellent for growing underneath taller trees in the landscape.

Needle palms aren’t too picky about sunlight and as long as they get adequate heat they should do fine in part sun as well as full sun.

These palms are somewhat drought-tolerant and can adapt to a wide range of well-draining soil types, but prefer humid conditions to thrive best. 

They will also do well in moisture-rich, swampy conditions similar to their natural habitat.

Since these are wide, shrubby palms with excessively sharp needles, they can also be good for planting along the edge of your property as a fence line.

This acts as a security system barrier of sorts, with the sharp needles keeping unwanted critters off of your property.

Needle palms are great for folks wanting a slow-growing shorter palm, but also want something that spreads out into a dense palm shrub.

Since the needles of these palms are very sharp, they are recommended for open areas away from paths like entryways and doorways.

Any Drawbacks?

Mature Needle Palm - Berkeley, CA
Mature Needle Palm – Berkeley, CA

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 and using products such as neem oil or apple cider vinegar to detract pests.

While highly moisture tolerant, Needle palms can develop yellowing fronds from over-watering and can also be subject to crown and root rot, especially if grown in pots where water regulation is a little more difficult.

Over-fertilizing can also cause this, so only fertilize twice a year if needed.

As mentioned before, these palms develop very sharp needles, so great care is advised when choosing a planting location. Keep away from walking paths, swimming pools or anywhere people could get snagged by one of these thorns. 

Provide plenty of room and when handling, be sure to wear thick gloves to avoid getting stabbed.

The Wrap Up

If you live in zone 6 or higher and have always wanted a palm for your landscape, the Needle palm is a perfect solution to gain that tropical look you’ve always wanted.

Even though Needle palms are very slow growing and take several years to achieve a mature size, they make up for it in cold hardiness!

Needle palms are great for beginner palm growers, people living in the northern U.S. states, or anyone wanting to make their northern garden look more tropical.

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One Comment

  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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