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Types of Palms

One of the critial factors that determines where palms and cycads can be grown in South Carolina is their cold hardiness. Most of the palms listed below can be grown a half zone colder than that listed, if provided with protection during the winter. Expect some cold damage to occur in severe winters to all but the hardiest of palms.

Needle Palm (Rhapidophyllum hystrix): Needle palms are truly beautiful native plants that occur naturally in river floodplains of the Southeast. They are rare to the point of endangerment and are often found growing over limestone. They are a clumping understory palm with many palmate, deep-green leaves that have silvery undersides. Numerous very sharp needles protect the crown of the plant, hence its name, needle palm.

Needle palm is a very adaptable palm. It is considered the world's hardiest palm, new growth is damaged at  -10F. Hardy in South Carolina from zones 7a to 8b.

Needle palms can be used in clumps or as single specimens. The typical size of the clump is about 5 feet high and wide, although it can eventually reach 10 feet high and wide. The growth rate is slow. They grow best in light shade with adequate moisture and are not tolerant of salt spray.

Dwarf Palmetto (Sabal minor): This palm appears to be a clumping type of palm, but it actually has a trunk that is either very short or below the ground. Unlike the saw palmetto, the dwarf palmetto does not have spiny leaf stems and does not spread over a large area. The fan-shaped foliage of this dwarf palm may be green to a bluish-gray. There are usually no more than a half dozen leaves on a single plant. They differ from the leaves of other dwarf palms by having a split 'V' right in the middle. The usual size is 4 to 5 ft high and wide and the growth reate is slow.

The dwarf palmetto is hardy in South Carolina from zones 7a to 8b. It is almost impossible to transplant, therefore it is best to use container-grown plants. It will tolerate some salt spray.

Brazoria Palm (Sabal x texensis): This very rare palm is from Brazoria County, Texas and is an intermediate hybrid between Sabal minor and Sabal mexicana creating a very cold hardy palm. This palm is hardy to 0 degrees.

The Brazoria palm has giant, green, fan-shaped leaves and the palm will reach a height of 20 feet growing at a rate of 3+ feet per year once established. Good from zones 7b to 10.

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Windmill Palm (Trachycarpus fortunei): These palms have a single, slender (1 foot or less in diameter) trunk with fan-shaped leaves similar to the needle palm. Leaves are dark green and can be 2 to 3 feet across. The trunk of this palm is brown and is usually covered with a burlap-like substance. The trunk is often wider at the top than the bottom. The average height in our area is 20 feet and the growth rate is moderate to somewhat fast. Under good growing conditions this palm can grow 1 to 2 feet per year.

Windmill palms are one of the most cold hardy of palms and are hardy in South Carolina from zones 7b to 8b. In the Southeast, this palm grows best in light to medium shade. It must have some shade in zone 8b. Prefers a rich, fertile, loamy soil, but will tolerate most types of soil. The windmill palm grows best with ample water, but will not tolerate standing water or a high water table. Windmill palms cannot take direct salt spray.

Cabbage Palm (Sabal palmetto): The cabbage palm is the state tree of South Carolina and is commonly seen near coastal areas. It has large, blue-green leaves with threadlike strands of fiber hanging off of each leaf. The trunk is massive (can be a foot and a half across) and wild plants retain old leaf-stems (often called "boots") on their trunks in a crisscross pattern. They are common in their native habitat, which ranges on the southeastern coast from North Carolina to the northern panhandle of Florida. Their growth rate is usually moderate and a mature height of 30 feet is common in our area.

Cabbage palms prefer full sun to light shade. They are very adaptable to different soil types, but do best in sandy soil with some limestone, such as might be found in old shell-mounds near the beach. They are hardy in South Carolina from zones 7b (protected) to 8b, and do best with ample water. They are very tolerant of salt spray.

Mediterranean Fan Palm (Chamaerops humilis): This palm is a small, clumping fan palm with stiff leaves and spiny leaf stems. The growth rate is slow, and in the Southeast a height of 5 feet is common. They are hardy in South Carolina from zones 8a to 8b. Plant this palm in full sun to light shade. They need well-drained soil and will thrive on a site with limestone. Once this palm is established it is extremely drought-tolerant.

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Jelly Palm, Pindo Palm (Butia capitata): This is the most commonly cultivated exotic palm in the Southeast. It is a feather-type palm with gray-green to blue-green fronds 6 to 8 feet long and a massive trunk up to a foot and a half across. Ten to 20 feet is a common height and the growth rate is slow to moderate. This palm is not quite as hardy as the palmetto palm and requires winter protection below 15 degree. They are hardy in South Carolina from zones 8a to 8b.

They grow best in full sun in a location that is well-drained. They are reasonably drought-hardy once established and will tolerate salt spray.

Chinese Fan Palm/Fountain Palm (Livistona chinensis): Chinese fan palm is a beautiful fan palm reaching a height of up to 25 feet and 6-10 feet wide. This palm is cold tolerant to zones 8b to 11. Once establish it is drought tolerant requiring little watering.

Saw Palmetto, Scrub Palm (Serenoa repens): Saw Palmettos arenative to coastal areas of the Southeast and most areas of Florida. They are a low, spreading, fan-type palm with stiff leaves and spiny leaf stems. The trunks usually creep along the ground, rooting and branching as they grow. In coastal regions, they are an aggressive spreader.

Saw palmettos grow best in a location that has full sun or very light shade and is well-drained. They are hardy in South Carolina from zones 8a to 8b. They tolerate salt spray and are drought-hardy once established.

California Fan Palm (Washingtonia filifera): This palm can be truly immense and fast-growing. In warm climates plants can grow up to 100 feet tall. No plants have grown to this size in the Southeast. The trunk can be up to 2 feet across. Leaves are yellow-green and palmate with spiny stems. In South Carolina this palm is considered hardy in zone 8b and marginally hardy in zone 8a. The large size and fast growth rate require special consideration in the landscape. It has moderate salt tolerance.

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Mexican Fan Palm (Washingtonia robusta): This palm is native to Baja California and greatly resembles the Calofornia fan palm when young. The Mexican fan palm however, has a slender trunk usually less than one foot across. Although the Mexican fan palm grows reasonably well in zone 8b, a better choice for most of the Southeast would probably be a hybrid of the two species known as Washingtonia x filibusta.

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