20 Wonderful Palm Trees For Your Australian Garden
Palm trees belong to the Arecaceae family of perennial flowering plants. They are typically characterised by an unbranched stem and large, evergreen leaves (known as fronds) that are arranged around the top of the plant.
There are two main types of palm trees — pinnate and palmate. Pinnate palms have fronds that resemble feathers, whereas palmate palms have large, fan-like fronds. Palm trees are attractive, hardy and long-living and have a variety of intriguing textures, sizes, silhouettes, heights and colours. And although they most naturally occur in tropical and sub-tropical environments, you don’t have to live in the tropics to add a rainforest vibe to your garden!
Types of palm trees
There are over 2500 types of palm tree species found around the world, and over 50 of these are found in Australia. Here are some of the more popular ones that are ideally suited to Australian gardens and how to care for them.
Alexandra Palm (Archontophoenix alexandrae)
Native to the Queensland coast and the tip of the Cape York Peninsula, this palm can grow up to 30 metres but is significantly smaller when raised in a garden. It has a pale green crown shaft (the column above the main trunk and beneath the main crown of leaves), a grey to greenish-grey trunk, and feather-like fronds up to three metres long. It also produces lovely white flowers and red fruits. The Alexandra Palm can withstand heavy rainfall and seasonal flooding. Plant in free draining soil in a partly shaded to full sun location and protect from frost.
Australian Cabbage Tree Palm (Livistona australis)
This is a popular landscaping plant due to its tolerance of various weather conditions, including frost and salt-laden winds (perfect if you live on the coast). It is a tall, slender palm with a grey trunk, leaves up to three metres long, cream-white flowers and reddish-brown fruits. It can grow to a height of 25 metres. The Cabbage Tree Palm thrives in partly shaded positions but can still grow in full sun. It prefers moist, organic-rich soils or well-drained soil.
Australian Fan Palm (Licuala ramsayi)
Also known as the Wedge Leaflet Fan Palm, this is an amazing rainforest palm native to northern Queensland. It is slow-growing but can eventually reach 15 metres in height, but will be smaller if kept in a pot. It is distinguished by its spectacular near-circular leaves that grow up to two metres in diameter. This palm is happiest in moist, well-drained soil and should be given plenty of shade while young.
Bangalow Palm (Archontophoenix cunninghamiana)
This palm is quite similar to the Alexandra Palm, but the trunk is thinner, and the under-leaf colour is green like the top of the leaves. Tall and fast-growing, it can reach up to 25 metres and can tolerate light frosts when established. It also has lovely violet-toned flowers and bright red fruit that attracts birds. Bangalow Palms need regular watering in dry weather to keep the foliage green and lush.
Black Palm (Normanbya normanbyi)
Found in North Queensland rainforests, this tall, handsome plant can grow up to 20 metres. It has a smooth, slender, light grey trunk that almost turns black as the palm ages. It has three-metre fronds, yellow fruit and white flowers. Black Palms need to be watered regularly and likes high humidity, but it is quite hardy and can withstand temperatures below freezing point when mature.
Carpenteria Palm (Carpentaria acuminate)
Growing up to 30 metres tall, this palm is predominantly found in the Northern Territory and under the right conditions, can reach maturity in six years. It features green to white flowers, a greyish-green crown shaft and dark green four-metre-long fronds. After five or so years, it develops beautiful brilliant red fruit that hangs in large clusters from the trunk. It prefers full sun or partial shade and moist well-drained soil, and is not cold or drought hardy.
Chinese Windmill (Trachycarpus fortunei)
Also known as a Chusan Palm, this cold-hardy plant is a popular landscaping choice in temperature climates, particularly as a lawn or courtyard feature. An elegantly-shaped tree, it has a beautiful silhouette and graceful fan-like fronds. Reaching a height of around seven metres, it prefers moist, well-drained soil and protection from strong winds. However, don’t over-water as it may cause the plant to suffer from root and trunk rot.
Coconut Palm (Cocos nucifera)
This palm features a large palm head and massive coconut fruits. It is one of the most recognisable plants of the tropics and is native to Queensland and tropical areas of the Western Pacific. It can grow up to 35 metres in height and has a grey trunk, cream flowers, and pinnate fronds. They will happily grow in full or part shade and are well adapted to salt spray, high winds and coastal exposure. However, Coconut Palms are cold sensitive so will not tolerate frost. They are also not fond of being wet and soggy during cold weather, so watering should be reduced over winter.
Date Palm (Phoenix dactylifera)
One of the most beautiful of the palm species, this palm is often cultivated for its sweet, edible fruit. The fruit (dates) can range in colour from bright yellow to bright red, depending on the variety. Date Palms are slow-growing and can reach up to 30 metres and live for as long as 150 years! This plant needs a long, hot growing season, and although they tolerate a variety of conditions and soil types, prefer free-draining soils with good moisture-holding capacity.
European Fan Palm (Chamaerops humilis)
The European fan palm has become very popular, partly due to its cold hardiness and tolerance against wind. It has fan-shaped, triangular leaves that range from silvery grey to bluish-green, and small yellow flowers followed by green, inedible fruits that turn brown when ripe. Usually clumping, it is ideal for lawn or courtyard features. This plant prefers well-drained, organic soil but will adapt to most soil types.
Dwarf Fan Palm (Livistona muelleri)
By Xemenendura – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikipedia
Native to the Northern Territory and the Cape York Peninsula, this palm grows to a height of 16 to 25 metres but remains much smaller in gardens, where it can reach up to four metres. Orderly and ornamental, it has a brown trunk, bluish-black fruit and large fronds that tightly radiate in a fanning cluster atop the trunk. Red flower heads emerge annually, offering a vibrant display. Dwarf Fan Palms require little care, although in cooler locations should be relocated indoors during winter.
Fishtail Palm (Caryota albertii)
With a natural habitat of the Cape York Peninsula, this is a large, clumping palm that grows up to 10 metres tall and approximately four metres across. It has a grey to light green trunk, cream flowers, widely-spaced leaf nodes and dark purple fruit. These palms thrive in humid conditions and are a great indoor plant due to their ability to grow with only moderate sun exposure.
Florence Falls Palm (Hydriastele wendlandiana)
By Steve Fitzgerald – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikipedia
Commonly known as Wendland’s Palm, this tree is native to New Guinea, Queensland and the Northern Territory. Growing up to 25 metres tall, it has a whitish-green crown shaft and clusters of two to three slender stems that rise around a dense cluster of cane-like stems. Fruits that appear on short stalks below the crown can be purple, orange or various shades of red. This palm prefers humid atmospheres and heavy shade.
Foxtail Palm (Wodyetia bifurgata)
Native to Queensland, this palm is suitable for tropical, sub-tropical and temperate areas. It has a single trunk that grows up to 15 metres, and a pale green crown shaft. Leaves are serrated at the tips and, along with its arching frond, make them look like a fox’s tail. It features large, bright orange fruit and feathery white flowers. Foxtail Palms can be grown in a wide range of soils, however soil should be well-draining. They are tolerant of wind and sea spray, so are an excellent choice for those who live in coastal areas.
Golden Cane Palm (Dypsis lutescens)
A popular landscaping plant, the Golden Cane Palm is ideal for bringing a tropical feel to your garden. Characterised by its gold-green leaves and golden cane stems, its dense foliage is excellent for screening and as a windbreak. They can grow up to four metres high in the garden and are also one of the best trees for pots in Australia. These plants prefer shaded or full sun positions in well-drained soil, and should be kept moist during dry periods.
Kentia Palm (Howea forsteriana)
Native to Lord Howe Island, this is an elegant palm that prefers subtropical or warm, temperate climates. It is a medium-sized plant that grows up to 15 metres with large fronds, a brownish-grey trunk, brown flowers and orange to red fruit. It grows well indoors and in pots and can tolerate salt-laden winds but needs frost-free conditions. Soil should be well-drained and rich in organic matter and this plant should be watered regularly, especially during dry periods.
Lady Palm (Rhapis excelsa)
This is an elegant, graceful and incredibly attractive plant. It is slow-growing but can grow to four metres, and it has dark, glossy-green stems that develop a bamboo-like pattern. It is a great option for pots, borders and screens or in a sheltered spot in the garden. Because it tolerates low light and air conditioning, it is also an ideal indoor plant. Regular watering is a must, however over-watering can lead to root rot. As with most plants, drainage is essential.
Parlour Palm (Chamaedorea elegans)
This is a slow-growing “dwarf” palm that has a big impact! It is a graceful specimen, with clusters of slender stems and lovely green foliage. Growing to a height of two metres, it is an ideal indoor plant as it can tolerate low light. If planting outdoors, position in part shade and in well-draining soil. However, ensure it is sheltered from frost and winds. Mulch and water regularly until the plant is established.
Solitaire Palm (Ptychospermia elegans)
By Steve Fitzgerald – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikipedia
Endemic to Queensland, this palm grows up to 12 metres in height and has dark green fronds that grow opposite each other, creating a “V” shape. It has a green shaft, greenish-grey stem and produces white flowers and bright red fruit. It prefers full sun to a partially shaded position and moist, fertile soils with good drainage. Water regularly if growing indoors.
Umbrella Palm (Hedyscepe canterburyana)
By Kahuroa – Own work, Public Domain, Wikipedia
Another one of the palm trees that is endemic to Lord Howe Island, the Umbrella Palm has a slender trunk, a silvery crown shaft and a compact crown of dense, dark green fronds. Growing up to 10 metres, flowers are yellow to orange in colour, and it produces egg-shaped, deep red fruit that is densely bunched below the crown shaft. This plant prefers a moist, well-drained position and shade or morning sun when young.