Hardy Palms A Quick Reference

Palms are listed in order of approximate cold hardiness. Low temperature listings reflect what mature plants may survive under average garden conditions in the southeastern United States. Sizes given are also typical for growth in the Southeast.

Please note that hardiness depends on more than absolute low temperatures, especially in marginal areas. Duration of cold, daytime high temperatures, amount of sunlight and wind, and the plant's general health and maturity also affect winter survival. Palms generally gain hardiness with age and size. Protect small (1- to 3-gallon size) newly-planted palms for several winters in marginal areas.

The species on this page are among the most commonly-available hardy palms from garden centers or mail order. Dozens of additional uncommon species are discussed in the upcoming book Hardy Palms for the Southeast. Watch this web site for future announcements on the book's availability.

Information and photos provided by Southeastern Palm Society members.

Click on thumbnails for larger photos.

 

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Rhapidophyllum hystrix    

NEEDLE PALM

Hardiness: Zone 6b or slightly colder when established, making it the world's hardiest palm. Needs excellent siting for long-term survival in Zone 6.

Description: A clumping palm with medium-green leaves, growing slowly to eight to 10 feet tall and wide. Forms a stubby trunk with age. Named for the sharp needles that protect the crown, though the needles remain safely away from children and pets. One of the easiest palms to grow in the Southeast. Use as a specimen or hedge in sun or shade, though the needle palm is a little more open and attractive in half-day shade or filtered sunlight.

Origin: River floodplains from South Carolina to Florida and Mississippi, with populations extending far inland to central Georgia and northeastern Alabama.

1. This needle palm in Knoxville, Tennessee, survived a low of around -20F in 1985. (photo: Will Taylor)

2. Needle palm blossom, Apison, Tennessee. (photo: Jeff Stevens)

4. Needle palm in habitat near Louisville, Georgia. (photo: Joe LeVert)

 

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Sabal minor    

DWARF PALMETTO

Hardiness: To -5F, with leaf damage beginning at around 5F.

Description: A shrub-sized palm with bluish leaves, growing four to six feet tall and wide. Use as a specimen or tall groundcover. The seed attract birds. As with all Sabals, it grow in sun or light shade, with fastest growth in sun.

Origin: North Carolina to Florida and Texas, extending inland to central Georgia, northeastern Alabama and southeastern Oklahoma. The most widely-distributed palm in the Southeastand in the United States.

The larger Louisiana palmetto (Sabal minor var. 'Louisiana') forms a short trunk after many years and may be slightly less hardy. Possibly a western ecotype of Sabal minor. Native to east Texas and Louisiana.

 

1. Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden, Belmont, North Carolina (photo: Jeff Stevens)

2. Seeds, Madison, Georgia (photo: Jeff Stevens)

3. Close-up of inflorescence (photo: Jeff Stevens)

4. In habitat in Pamlico County, North Carolina (photo: Gary Hollar)

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Sabal sp. 'Birmingham'    

BIRMINGHAM PALMETTO

Hardiness: To around 0F. An established plant in Oklahoma survived subzero temperatures in 1996. It may turn out to be the world's most cold-hardy trunking palm.

Description: Grows as a large shrub and forms a trunk after many years, though not as tall as Sabal palmetto.

Origin: Of mysterious provenance and perhaps a hybrid, the lone parent tree grew for many years in Birmingham, Alabama.   

1. New Bern, North Carolina (photo: Gary Hollar)

2. Mt. Olive, Alabama (photo: Ray Adams)

 

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Trachycarpus fortunei    

WINDMILL PALM

Hardiness: Zone 7b (5F) and in Zone 7a (0F) with protection. Unhappy in Zone 9 and hotter in the Southeast.

Description: An fast and easy-to-grow palm tree reaching 20 feet or so in the Southeast. The slender trunk is covered with a burlap-like fiber. Grows well even in clay. Grown in sun in Zone 7 and give it some shade in Zone 8, protect from strong winds.

Origin: East Asia.

Related species: The Kumaon palm (Trachycarpus takil) is a related species with similar appearance and hardiness. Wagner's windmill palm (Trachycarpus wagnerianus) has smaller, stiffer leaves and is slower growing. The dwarf windmill palm (Trachycarpus nanus) is a dwarf, nearly groundcover-sized palm.

 

1. Pullen Park, Raleigh, North Carolina (photo: Gary Hollar)

2. In full bloom (photo: George Weaver)

3. Closer view of inflorescence (photo: Jeff Stevens)

4. Ripe seeds (photo: Tom McClendon)

5. Fiber-covered trunk (photo: Jeff Stevens)

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Sabal palmetto

PALMETTO OR CABBAGE PALM

Hardiness: Zone 8a (10F), Zone 7b (5F) with protection or good siting.

A common Southeastern palm tree maturing at 40 feet or more, and the symbol of the Sea Island landscape. Mature specimens are often planted "hurricane cut" with leaves and most roots removed, actually ensuring better recovery at its new site. The state tree of both South Carolina and Florida.

Origin: North Carolina to Florida.

1. Fripp Island, South Carolina (photo: Joe LeVert)

2. After a rare snowfall at Emerald Beach, North Carolina (photo: Barry Brindle)

3. Charleston, South Carolina (photo: Jeff Stevens)

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Butia capitata

JELLY PALM OR PINDO PALM

Hardiness: Zone 8 (10F) with some damage occurring at about 15F. Needs protection in Zone 7b when temperatures drop below 15F.

Description: Lovely palm tree with silvery-green feathery fronds, a stout trunk. Beautiful blossoms and tasty and aromatic orange fruit are bonuses. Grows from 20 to 30 feet tall. Looks best in full sun.

Origin: Southern Brazil and Uruguay.

Other species: There are around seven other species of Butia palms, all native to South America. The wooly palm (Butia eriospatha) is very similar to the jelly palm and is perhaps slightly hardier.

 

1. Raleigh, North Carolina (photo: Gary Hollar)

2. Aquinas High School, Augusta, Georgia (photo: Jeff Stevens)

3. Brunswick, Georgia (photo: Will Fell)

4. Ripe fruit (photo: Jeff Stevens)

 

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Serenoa repens    

SAW PALMETTO

Hardiness: Zone 8 (10F) with damage occurring at 10F to 15F. Should be tried more in Zone 7b.

Description: Shrubby palm to 5 to 10 feet, occasionally forming a trunk. Typical plants have green leaves, but blue, silver and white forms are highly prized.

Origin: South Carolina to Florida to Louisiana.

 

1. Green form in Bullock County, Georgia (photo: Will Fell)

2. Silver form at Riverbanks Zoo and Botanical Garden, Columbia, South Carolina (photo: Jeff Stevens)

3. Seeds in Emmanuel County, Georgia (photo: Jeff Stevens)

4. Trunked form in Camden County, Georgia (photo: Tom McClendon)

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Chamaerops humilis

MEDITERRANEAN FAN PALM

Hardiness: Reliably hardy in Zone 8 (10F); marginally hardy to 5F in Zone 7b if given some protection.

Description: A clustering fan palm with stiff leaves and spiny leaf stems. Grows to five or six feet tall, though along the Georgia coast specimens 15 feet tall are known. Appreciates good drainage and full sun. Drought tolerant.

Origin: The shores of the western Mediterranean. The only palm native to Europe.

1. Bamboo Farm and Coastal Gardens, Savannah, Georgia (photo: Jeff Stevens)

2. An example of good siting for Zone 7 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina (photo: Bob Snyder)

 

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Washingtonia filifera

CALIFORNIA FAN PALM

Hardiness: Zone 8b (15F), Zone 8a (10F) with careful siting.

Description: A massive palm with a thick trunk and heavy crown, growing quickly to 40 feet in the Southeast.

Origin: California, Arizona and Baja California.

1. Charleston, South Carolina (photo: Jeff Stevens)

2. Bamboo Farm and Coastal Gardens, Savannah, Georgia (photo: Jeff Stevens)

 

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Washingtonia robusta

MEXICAN FAN PALM 

Hardiness: Zone 9 (20F), Zone 8b (15F) with leaf damage.

Description: A easy-to-grow palm where it is hardy, growing even faster than the California fan palm. Occasionally grown in Zones 8a and 7 with defoliation and protection since the leaves resprout so quickly, often growing a full crown by the end of May.

Origin: Western Mexico.

1. Carolina Beach, North Carolina (photo: Carl Cornelius)

2. Grown as a "perennial" in Chattanooga, Tennessee (photo: David Cox)

 

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