Agri Leader

Cold-hardy palms come in various shapes and sizes

It’s July and maybe you’re headed to the beach with the family. When you finally reach that beach town, the streets are sure to be lined with lots of palm trees. Florida gets a lot of visitors to the state and one thing they expect to see are those graceful tropical beauties. Palms are the basis for the lush tropical look that vacationers and Floridians alike find so appealing and after all, no plant quite says Florida like the palm.

There are many varieties of palm trees growing in Florida, but because many can’t tolerate freezing temperatures, the farther north you head the fewer varieties you’ll see. Because of this, I thought I’d write about some of the more cold hardy varieties. Most of your date palms of the genus Phoenix are fairly cold hardy and include the large single-trunk Canary Island date palm.

This palm is occasionally called the pineapple palm because the texture of the trunk formed below the large, stiff fronds gives the appearance of a pineapple. This massive palm can reach heights of 60 feet and can be expected to add about a foot a year, making it a fairly slow grower. Because it can tolerate down to 18 degrees it is sometimes found planted in more northern reaches of Florida.

Phoenix sylvestris, also known as wild or Indian date palm, has recently become the palm of choice for high-end landscapes and commercial projects. A slimmer and shorter version of the Canary Island date, it has silvery colored fronds, can reach around 40 feet and tolerates temperatures down to the low 20s. The boots or petioles left from the removed fronds stay on the tree much longer than the Canary Island dates and are often trimmed in a fashion that give the trunk an interesting pattern or texture.

Phoenix roebellini, or the pygmy date palm, is very popular in the Florida’s Heartland, and though not as cold-hardy as some of the other date palms, they usually bounce back rather quickly after a frost or freeze. Often grown with three trunks, they can vary from a single-trunk palm to having multiple trunks. These versatile little palms grow to 12 feet in height and are ideal as a foundation palm for this reason. You’ll still want to plant them a minimum of six feet from your home’s roof overhang.

The Pindo palm, butia capitata, is one of the more cold-tolerant palm species, resisting temperature down to around 10 degrees. This underused palm has long, stiff silvery fronds that arch down towards the ground. The boots remain on the trunks and can also be trimmed in a decorative cut much like the Indian date palm. This palm grows fairly slow and can reach heights of 25 feet, but more commonly 15-20 feet. It’s other common name is the jelly palm because the dates can be used to make jelly.

The Sabal palm, Sabal palmetto, or more affectionately known as the “cabbage palm” to native Floridians, is the state tree of Florida. The edible heart or bud is a Florida delicacy known by the locals as swamp cabbage and the Swamp Cabbage Festival that takes place every February in LaBelle is in honor of it.

A slow-growing palm it can take temperature down to about 7 degrees and grows as far north as the coastal Carolinas. These trees can grow about 80 feet but take a lifetime to reach that. They are commonly dug locally and sold through landscapers. The tallest tree on record resides at the Highlands Hammock State Park in Sebring.

The windmill palm, Trachycarpus fortunei, is a single-trunk medium-sized fan palm that can take any cold weather. The fronds rotate down in a fashion like a windmill. The trunk of the palm is covered with hairy fibers that appear somewhat like burlap and help protect the trunk of the tree. At 15-20 feet tall it works well as a centerpiece or in groups in your landscape.

Chamaerops humilis is a multiple-trunk fan palm that is commonly called the Mediterranean or European fan palm. This slow growing palm handles temperatures down into the teens and is fairly maintenance-free.

The bamboo palm, Chamaedorea seifritzii, is a small multiple-trunk palm that is better suited for planting in shade or filtered light. This palm makes a nice house plant or patio plant. Growing to about 12 feet tall with many slender trunks, this graceful palm can withstand temperatures into the low 20s.

Another palm that does well in shade that grows to about 15 feet is Rhapis excelsa, the lady palm. Also an excellent house and patio plant, the lady palm will also take temperatures down into the 20s. If it becomes too tall for your planting spot simply remove the tall canes and smaller ones will take its place.

For a fast-growing and inexpensive palm you might consider the queen palm, syragrus romanzoffiana. Growing from 30-50 foot in height, it has a smooth trunk and long, dark green fronds. Once it is established it should take temperatures in the mid- to high-20s and need only be protected for the first year. If taken care of, the queen palm can grow several feet each year.

Whichever palms you choose they will certainly add beauty and value to your property and best of all, most of them are considered Florida-friendly. If you’d like to find out more about palms and Florida–friendly Landscaping contact me at or call the UF/IFAS Highlands County Extension office at (863)402-6540 and ask for a Master Gardener.