Of all the plants in the world, I really do love palms. I find it fascinating that these essentially big blades of grass can add such a dramatic effect to the landscape. That’s right, palms are monocots and like grass blades, they have a terminal growing point.
I remember when growing up in Raleigh, NC that there were big windmill palms (Trachycarpus fortunei) growing beside of one of the community centers in town. Later, when we lived in Wimington, NC, there were palm trees along most streets. From the native sabal palms to the arching Butia capitata from South America, Wilmington has its fair share of palms.
When we lived in Pennsylvania, I had tried growing palms but with no success. So when I first toured Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens and saw needle palms planted out in the landscape, I laughed and immediately dismissed the experiment. Well, I am pleased to say, the joke is now on me. The grouping of needle palms, Rhapidophyllum hystrix, made it through this past winter here in Boothbay, Maine. Locals tell me that this past winter was a pretty wicked winter in terms of snow and cold so the fact that these palms made it is a great sign. We did wrap the palms in cages and protect their crowns with leaf compost.
Needle palms are native to the southeastern United States. They can ultimately grow to over 6′ in height and 8′ in width. The trunk on needle palms is short and covered with spines that look like needles, thus the name. When the plants are happy, they flower and fruit just inside of the protection zone of the needles. I have been told that the needles serve as an evolutionary adaptation to protect the flowers and fruit.
I am ecstatic that these plants survived! A lot of our guests spend their winters in Florida and other warmer climes so I cannot wait to show them our palm trees this summer.
Images: chillypalmtree.com, plantlust.com