Information About Fan Palms

Information About Fan Palms

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Potted Ruffled Fan Palm Care – Growing Ruffled Fan Trees Indoors

By Raffaele Di Lallo, Author and founder of Ohio Tropics houseplant care blog

Are you looking to grow a ruffled fan palm in a pot? Ruffled fan palms are an unusual and gorgeous species of palm grown for their gorgeous pleated, or ruffled, leaves. Growing ruffled fan tree is pretty easy if you follow the basic care found in this article.

Mexican Fan Palm Info – Learn About Growing Mexican Fan Palms

By Liz Baessler

Mexican fan palm trees are very tall palm trees native to northern Mexico. They are attractive trees with wide, fanning, dark green leaves. Learn more about Mexican palm care and how to grow a Mexican fan palm tree in this article.

Fan Palm Information – Tips On Caring For California Fan Palms

By Mary Ellen Ellis

Also known as the desert fan palm, the California fan palm is a grand and beautiful tree that is perfect for dry climates. If you live in an arid or semiarid climate, consider using one of these tall trees to anchor your landscape. This article will help get you started.

Fan Palm Information: Learn How To Grow Mediterranean Fan Palms

By Shelley Pierce

With multiple brown trunks of fibrous bark that are scaled like a pinecone from top to bottom and triangular fan-shaped leaves, fan palms beckon weirdness, leaving us awestruck and wanting to know more about them. This article aims to help with that.

Care for a Chinese Fan Palm

The Chinese fan palm (Livistona chinensis) is an upright palm tree that’s native to southern Japan and Taiwan. Usually grown indoors as a houseplant, the Chinese fan has an open growth habit and can reach more than 12 feet in height and width. Due to the Chinese fan palm’s large mature size, the tree is often container-grown and kept in larger rooms. You can also grow a Chinese fan palm tree outdoors if you live in a tropical climate (USDA hardiness zones 9 through 11), where winter temperatures rarely dip below 25 to 30 degrees F.

Water your Chinese fan palm two or three times per week, watering the soil completely and evenly until the water drains freely from the bottom of the container. Remove any excess water from the drainage dish if the palm doesn’t absorb it within two to three hours.

Keep your Chinese fan palm in bright but indirect sunlight. Keep the palm away from direct sunlight and in partial shade when it’s young.

  • The Chinese fan palm (Livistona chinensis) is an upright palm tree that’s native to southern Japan and Taiwan.
  • Due to the Chinese fan palm’s large mature size, the tree is often container-grown and kept in larger rooms.

Feed your Chinese fan palm once a month while it’s actively growing with a water-soluble houseplant fertilizer made for palms. When the palm plant becomes semi-dormant and inactive during the winter months, feed it only once every two months. If you’re growing the Chinese fan palm outdoors, feed it with an outdoor palm tree fertilizer according to the directions on the label.

Mist your Chinese fan palm daily with a water spray bottle to keep the humidity levels high. You’ll know when the air around the palm tree is too dry when the leaf tips begin to turn brown.

Treat spider mites infesting your Chinese fan palm tree by misting the leaves with a mixture of liquid dish soap and water. You can use a ratio of about 1 gallon of water to 2 tbsp. of dish soap.

  • Feed your Chinese fan palm once a month while it’s actively growing with a water-soluble houseplant fertilizer made for palms.

Allow the top 1 inch of soil to dry out between waterings for larger, older Chinese fan palms. For younger palms, keep the soil moist at all times but not soggy, because waterlogged soil can cause root rot.

Watch out for lethal yellowing disease in your outdoor-grown Chinese fan palm tree. Lethal yellowing is a disease that causes the palm fronds to turn yellow and droop, beginning with the lower fronds and spreading upward. Treat lethal yellowing by injecting your Chinese fan palm with oxytetracycline four times each year.

Dangerous Palms

Most palms are relatively safe to grow, but some have their hazards.

When most people think of palms, they think of a ferny-like tropical tree or shrub, sort of like what Xena Princess Warrior would experience running through on her show filmed in New Zealand, or the soft, willowy foliage the troops of some jungle war movie might be slinking through. Indeed, many people grow palms for their luxurious tropical foliage. However, a lot of palms are not so ‘user-friendly' and can be dangerous in several ways.

Many palms, particularly the ones that grow well for me in California, are equipped with all sorts of sharp, annoying spines, thorns, teeth or simply very sharp leaves. These palms are not only unsafe to go blundering into, but can be risky pruning or planting.

Examples of palms with spines are many, though most seriously spiny palms are truly tropical in nature and I do not have any of these in my yard. Some of these palms are primarily spiny when young, possibly to give them some defense against predation while still small enough to be considered food, and losing the spines at maturity when, as trees, are less interesting to herbivores. However, other palms are so spiny, even in adulthood as to have spines on nearly every surface and structure. These palms tend to have the most vicious spines and should really be avoided, or planted far from walkways.

Acanthophoenix crinita trunk and leaves Acrocomia aculeata trunk Astrocaryum standleyanum trunk

Bactris gaisepes Calamus latifolia Mauritiella armata

Oncosperma horridum Plectocomia elongata Roscheria melanochaetes

Salacca zalaca is an intensely spine species Trithrinax campestris is spiny all over

Verschaffeltia splendida (left above) Trithrinax brasiliensis (right above)

Zombia antillarum has a highly ornamental spiny woven pattern on its multiple trunks (lower photo above). These spines are very sharp and thick

Some species are simply spiny all over. above is a leaf and spathe from Acrocomia aculeata that is completely covered in spines right are fruits of Astrocaryum alatum that are spiny- this entire plant, including the leaflets, have deadly sharp spines

Some of the most beautiful but dangerous palms in the tropics are of the genus Pigafetta (left photo), as they not only have very long, very sharp spines arming their leaves (see fallen leaf base on right), but they grow quickly to sixty feet tall or more, and then drop these deadly, spiny leaves, impaling whoever happens to be unlucky enough to be below at the time. These leaves can weigh over thirty pounds, too.

Many palms have teeth on the petioles (the 'branch' that holds the leaf), and some of these teeth can really take a bite out of you if you are not careful. The common Washingtonia (Mexican Fan Palm) is well known for being a tricky palm to not only trim safely, but the falling leaves tend to get hung on ones clothing or drop onto others below causing serious damage.

Washingtonia robusta leave blades showing sharp, hooked, brown petiolar teeth- these are almost like razor blades

Chamaerops humilis is another common palm with killer teeth along the petioles. Trimmed palms look great and are true landscape specimens (right). to trim the palm on the left to get to the palm on the right can be an extremely dangerous and painful undertaking

Chamaerops humilis petioles (left) other species with vicious teeth: Copernica alba (middle) and Corypha utan (right)

most Copernicia have sharp teeth- Copernicia baileyana (left) as do most Livistona sp. (Livistona saribus in right photo)

Still other palms have modified leaves along the base of the petioles that can be extremely sharp and long making pruning these palms a truly hazardous experience. Phoenix palms are a prime example of such dangerous plants.

mature and immature Phoenix canariensis palms showing spines on leaf bases. Photo on right shows that I have tried to cut the sharp tips off most of these spines as these are still at a level where these could easily impale me as I walk by, or could even jab me in the eye.

fallen Phoenix canariensis palm leaf in a succulent garden makes a treacherous obstacle thanks to the modified leaf spines (left) right shows another species of Phoenix: Phoenix theophrasti, probably the king of the spines in the Phoenix genus

Calamus caryotoides, like many Rattan Palms, have whips and cirri that are modified leaflets used for climbing (these are climbing palms and climb up other vegetation in the jungle). These cirri are long, thin and heavily armed with extremely sharp hooks that tend to grab onto what ever walks by too close. It is an attractive palm, but a really dangerous one to plant anywhere near a pathway.

Other palms have toothless petioles, but that does not always mean there is nothing dangerous about them. The petiolar blades themselves can be sharp as knives pn some fan palms and one still needs to be cautious when trimming these species, or particularly if one is foolish enough to try to climb one.

Bismarckia (left) and Borrasodendron sp. (right) have knife-like blades

Above is a Sabal mauritiiformis petiole that I personally have been lacerated by

And even the leaves themselves can be lethal on some species- with tips so sharp who needs teeth or spines?

So if being punctured or lacerated is not enough of a danger, other palms can be dangerous thanks to gravity. Some of the larger species can drop leaves that weigh over fifty pounds each. A mature Royal Palm (Roystonea species) can let loose a 60 pound frond that can not only deliver a nasty blow, but do a great deal of serious property damage to whatever it crushes below. Even the common King Palm can unleash a twenty pound frond now and then that can at least give on a respectable bruise.

Royal in Southern California in private garden (left). Since this photo was taken, the owner sold the palm and had it moved since the fronds had damaged multiple vehicles parked below. Left shows a row of Roystonea oleraceas along a mall parking area in Hawaii, but no parking allowed near these palms

Royal and King palms in zoo (left) far from where they falling leaves can knock someone in the head. hope the flamingos are paying attention. Right shows another very tall species with extremely heavy leaves: Ceroxylon ventricosum. Fortunately these leaves tend to fall straight down, with the leaf base hugging the trunk the whole way down, so this one is a bit less hazardous to have along a sidewalk or driveway

Coconut palms are well known for their heavy, solid fruits being dangerous to pedestrians and automobiles below, and many tropical inhabitants have been badly injured by these heavy, coconut-milk-filled bombs. Borassus and Loedicia species have respectable gravity-propelled weaponry as well.

Coconuts are loading with dangerous weapons (see left) Right shows fallen coconut seeds that have fallen on a lawn ( photo Thaumturgist)

If you live in the Seychelle Islands, walking below the palms can be even more hazardous as that is the home of Lodoicea, the Double Coconut, aptly named due to the massive seed these palms make. Photo on right is of a naked seed weighing over fifty pounds before it was hollowed out. This is a rare and hard to grow species and each seed can run as much as $450 US.

Borassus flabilifer fruits make potential lethal bombs as well, weighing about five pounds each (left) right is Borassus flabilifer in fruit

And if you are not convinced that a falling palm leaf or seed can injure you, what of a falling palm? Though in many cases palms are much less likely to come down in high winds than most other trees, some palms can not only be blown over, but seem to simply fall over for no reason, even on a calm day. Caryotas, for whatever reason, tend to do this, and though not commonly grown in yards throughout the world, still manage to inflict major property damage to those that do favor these species, thanks to their incredibly solid woody trunks and top-heavy leafy crowns.

Queen palm fallen on a parked car (left)- planted in too wet soil too shallowly right shows a Caryota gigas getting tall enough to do some serious damage should it just decide to fall over

Though palms, in general, are among some of the least toxic of the tropical foliage plants in cultivation, some have toxic fruits. Caryotas and Arenga species have oxylates in the fleshy coating surrounding their seeds that not only are toxic, but can cause physical pain if handled carelessly, as the oxylates cause a stinging sensation.

Arenga engleri fruit (left) and Arenga pinnata fruit on the ground (right). Even walking on this fruit with bare feet can result in a toxic dermatitis

Arenga australisica fruit (left) and Caryota mitis fruit (right). Both a extremely irritating if eaten or even handled roughly

Areca catechu, aka Betel Nut Palm, has fruits commonly munched on by local residents in and near Thailand. This fruit is moderately toxic in that it is a mild stimulant but can have an addictive property. Sucking on Betel Nuts can damage teeth and gums over time, not to mention permanently staining these tissues orange.

Note: Cycas species (eg 'Sago Palms') are NOT palms, but are cycads. They are indeed extremely poisonous, but I have not included cycads in this discussion because they are not palms, despite their common name)

And though most are not poisonous, some palms drop vast amounts of seeds that can create other minor hazards, from a rotting, slippery mush, or a ball-bearing-covered sidewalk, to potential indigestible foreign bodies in pets and children, who sometimes eat the fruits and carelessly swallow the hard seeds inside whole. I have personally removed several Queen palm seed intestinal blockages from pets over the years.

Butia capitata (left) and Dypsis decaryi (right) fruits on ground make a slippery hazard when they are rotten and gooey

Fruits eaten by pets or children can lead to intestinal blockages as their seeds are often too large to pass through the guts (Wodyetia left). Right fruits are of Butia capitata and are very tasty, so eating them is very tempting

Addtional dangers of palms could include harboring disease-carrying pests. Washingtonia palms are well known for being a large apartment complex for all sorts of vermin from rats and mice, spiders and scorpions and all sorts of birds (pigeons and owls most commonly, though owls are rarely considered pests).

Washingtonia robustas with full skirts probably full fo all sorts of surprises. this is why most publically planted palms are trimmed regularly

Last, but not least is the possible danger of seeing a palm so beautiful one simply drops dead in amazement.

It’s a good idea to remove the palm’s dead leaves at the bottom of the crown about once a year.

Like most palms, a Chinese fan palm growing in a container doesn’t need to be repotted often, since growing in a pot greatly slows its growth. Planting the palm in a big enough pot for its root system should eliminate the need to repot, unless the soil is depleted or it outgrows its pot. If so, make sure not to damage the fragile roots during the transition to a larger pot.

These are rather large indoor plants, growing as much as 12 feet tall, so they are best suited for large rooms with high ceilings.

How to Plant a Mediterranean Fan Palm

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Bring a bit of the tropics to your garden, even in a cooler climate, with the Mediterranean fan palm (Chamaerops humilis). Also known as the European fan palm, it is the only palm native to Europe and grows in Sunset’s Climate Zones H1, H2 and 4 through 24. Mediterranean fan palms grow less than 6 inches per year to a height of about 20 feet. They form clumps and send out small “pups” that become part of a palm grouping that can be used effectively as a large shrub. With a little forethought about location, you can establish a Mediterranean fan palm in your landscape that will become a lush, attractive addition to your surroundings.

Select a spot in your garden with good drainage in full sun, well away from structures, walkways or other plants. The Mediterranean fan palm generally grows into the space provided, so afford it lots of room.

Dig a hole whose width is twice the diameter of the container of the Mediterranean fan palm. Dig the hole deep enough to accommodate the root ball plus 6 inches. There will be an obvious lip around the base of the trunk that forms the top of the root zone measure the depth of the root ball from this lip to the bottom of the container.

Amend the soil you remove from the hole with a little compost the Mediterranean fan palm does not need dense nutrition. Further amend heavy clay soil with sand to improve drainage.

Fill in the bottom of the hole with the amended soil and pack it firmly. The packed earth should take up 6 inches at the bottom of the hole.

Tap the sides of the Mediterranean fan palm container to loosen the root ball from it. Gently slide the entire root ball out of the container and set it in the hole. The lip of the root zone should be no more than 1 inch below ground and should never be above the surface.

Ensure the trunk is vertical and fill in around the root ball with the amended soil about half way up the root ball, filling in any gaps between the roots. If the gaps are hard to reach, use a hose to force water into the hole and drive the soil into the gaps. Pack the soil firmly around the root ball.

Fill the rest of the hole with the amended soil, continuing to fill in any gaps. Pack the soil firmly around the root ball. Water well to compact the soil further.

Spread 1 to 3 inches of bark or leaf mulch around the base of the Mediterranean fan palm to help it retain water. Drive a stake next to large palms, being careful not to damage the roots, and tie the palm to the stake with nylon mesh to help support it.

Water the newly planted Mediterranean fan palm deeply every other day, but do not water it if it rains the ground must drain of water completely between watering. Water the base only, not the leaves, and extend the watering zone about 10 inches past the root ball. If drainage is too quick, mound a small, circular berm of soil around the base of the palm just outside the root ball circumference to help retain water. Gradually taper off watering after about 6 months the Mediterranean fan palm will eventually become accustomed to the local rain conditions and will not need extra water.

Karren Doll Tolliver holds a Bachelor of English from Mississippi University for Women and a CELTA teaching certificate from Akcent Language School in Prague. Also a photographer, she records adventures by camera, combining photos with journals in her blogs. Her latest book, "A Travel for Taste: Germany," was published in 2015.

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