Until a few years ago, I had no idea that the Bismarck palm existed. I learned of this unique species while researching cold hardy palms and was shocked that a palm as striking and tropical in appearance could take temps below freezing. While it isn’t one of the most cold hardy, it is definitely a palm you should consider if living in zone 9 and above.
What Is It?
Known by its species name, Bismarckia Nobilis and native to western and northern plains of Madagascar, the silver Bismarck palm tree has become a popular favorite over the last decade in many areas of the southern United States and thrive well in hot, dry climates as well as tropical and subtropical climates. In fact, there is a less common green form of the Bismarck palm under the same species name, but lacks the same cold tolerance and overall beauty of the silver form.
The Bismarck palm has costapalmate fronds, which start out as palmate when young. The fronds feature a silver-blue waxy covering and can get up to 10 feet in width once mature.
These palms grow very fast and get very large, so it will need a lot of space as the leaf span of these palms can get approximately 25 feet in width or more.
The Bismarck palm is known as dioecious, meaning that each tree is either male or female and will need both to produce viable seed.
Where Will It Grow?
The Silver Bismarck palm is surprisingly adaptable to many climates. In its native habitat, Bismarck palms handle extreme drought and heat. This makes it a great palm for many low-lying desert climates in the southwest U.S., although in extreme periods of drought, it is advisable to give it a good water several times during the hot seasons.
The Bismarck palm is also a tropical loving palm and seems to do best in these hot and humid conditions. They have been thriving in areas like south Florida, Hawaii, Thailand and Australia, to name a few.
Bismarck palms will also vary in growth rate depending on the type of climate it’s in. Bismarck palms look and thrive much better in tropical climates, however they will also thrive very well in hot desert climates.
Who Are They For?
Bismarck palms are a good choice for hardiness zones 9 and above. They are best suited for places with hot, humid or dry summers and dry winters. They do not like prolonged exposure to moist, cold winters and usually will not survive temperatures below 20F without protection. You can get away with growing these palms in warmer areas of zone 8 most times of the year, but will need protection from occasional dips into the teens such as wrapping the palm with Christmas lights and/or using frost wrap for an extra layer of protection.
Since Bismarck palm fronds can vary in color from bluish gray to a bright silvery white, they are perfect for providing contrast between any green form plants and trees in your garden really making these palms stand out in the landscape.
If you are looking for something to make a huge statement in your yard, have a lot of space and don’t get excessively cold, wet winters, these silver palms will provide a beautiful, tropical look for your cold hardy garden.
While Bismarck palms can be easy and fast to grow, there are some things to be aware of.
When planting a Bismarck in the ground, be sure that it is in an area where you will not want to move it. These palms have extremely sensitive roots and are almost impossible to transplant once established without risk of killing the palm. Transplanting into a larger pot is okay as long as great care is taken in handling the root system during transplant.
A common pest for many palms would be the palmetto weevil. These are quite common in Florida and areas along the gulf coast stretching north into South Carolina and as far west as Texas. These will mostly attack sick, weak or recently transplanted trees by laying eggs at the base of the fronds near the crown and eventually infesting the entire inside of the palm. Pouring an insecticide a couple times of year into the crown and keeping the palm fertilized and healthy can help prevent palmetto weevil attacks.
Another disease that can affect Bismarck palms is Ganoderma Butt Rot. It is a pathogen known by the name Ganoderma Zonatum and can affect any palm tree, the most common being Date palms. There is no known way to cure it and once affected, a white mass known as a conk will form near the base of the trunk eventually taking on a seashell-like form. One known sign that your palm may be suffering from this disease is that many of the lower fronds will wilt and turn brown, usually leaving only the spear leaf thriving. It usually attacks trees that have had their trunks damaged in some way, either from other pests creating openings in the trunk where it can easily spread or from damage caused by mower blades, tree trimmers or other sharp gardening objects that can create damage to the trunk and make it more susceptible to rot.
Creating a good area of defensible space around the trunk to reduce the risk of damage as well as properly caring for and fertilizing your Bismarck palm will significantly decrease the risk of either of these problems. Always stay proactive in checking up on your palm throughout the year to make sure everything looks okay.
The Wrap Up
If you are looking for a fast growing tree that will not only create an incredible tropical look to your landscape, but also create a nice contrast to the more common green form plants in your garden, the silver Bismarck palm is definitely worth your consideration. Here’s a brief breakdown of what we just learned.
- Best suited for zones 9+
- Fast growing
- Loves hot tropical climates, but also thrives in hot, dry conditions as well
- Needs plenty of room to spread out as the crown can get approximately 25 feet wide
- Keep the palm healthy and well fertilized to reduce the risk of pests and diseases
- Roots are extremely fragile, so use caution when transplanting
- Bismarck palms do not tolerate prolonged exposure to wet, cold conditions
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