Palm trees are some of the most valued ornamental trees we plant in our gardens. They are also very diverse with over 2,500 different species out there. Picking what is best for you and your yard can be a daunting task. It helps to reduce your list to a few easy-to-find, and easy-to-grow species.
The Royal Palm is one of the most beautiful and popular ornamental palms. It is smooth, has light grey trunk, slightly barrel-shaped when young, reaches a height of 25 metres and is crowned by huge, pinnate leaves. Its majestic appearance makes it particularly suitable as an avenue or driveway tree.
While royal palms are relatively easy to grow and maintain, they are somewhat fussy about soil conditions and will demand deep, nutrient-rich soils.
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The golden palm is a relatively small tree that produces multiple canes from the ground. They are capable of growing up to three metres high, but don’t usually reach that height. They have a clumping habit and make excellent hedges or screens in the landscape and even indoors.
Contrary to its name, the golden palm is not necessarily golden in colour; the golden hue is produced only when the plant is exposed to full sun. They adapt well to a wide range of soil types, from the very fertile to the less than ideal.
Ruffled Fan Palm
This is one of the most striking palm species you will ever come across. It reaches a height of two metres and bears numerous, almost circular leaves on a short trunk. The dark green leaf-blades are like round fans and are slightly lobed along the margin, each lobe being divided at its tip into two teeth by a small incision.
They thrive best in a damp spot in the coastal climate.
Fish Tail Palm
Also called the Indian Sago Palm or the wine palm, this unique palm tree has foliage which is quite different from all other palms and can reach a height of up to 10 metres. It is both fast-growing and tough. The smooth grey trunk is marked with rings where the older leaves have fallen off. The leaves arch over slightly, and are doubly pinnate in form, the individual leaflets being curiously lozenge or wedge-shaped, hence the name, Fish-tail Palms.
The Fish-tail Palm prefers full sun, but can also tolerate a partial shade which makes it a good indoor plant too. Low humidity will, however, make the leaves yellow.
The Traveller’s Palm is native to Madagascar and the fan-like arrangement of its leaves makes it quite unmistakable. Contrary to what the name suggests, the traveller’s palm is not actually a member of the palm family. It belongs to the less graceful family of bananas. But make no mistake; few trees can match the traveller’s palm in beauty and elegance.
At first, the young plants have no stem as the leaves develop on an underground root stock. As the plant grows, a trunk of about eight metres is formed, crowned by a six- to eight-metre wide fan of banana-like leaves slit from the margin to the midrib into narrow strips.
The boat-shaped bases of the leaf stalks form two levels, which overlap each other closely and can hold one to two litres of water, which may relieve a thirsty traveller, hence the name: Traveller’s Palm.
—The writer is a landscape architect.