List from Chapter 11


While places such as Miami, San Diego and Tahiti are well-known for having many palm trees outdoors, there are other places where people have planted palms (which have survived) that would surprise many. Most of these are near the cold limit for palms so that only a few types of palms are hardy out of doors, and some are mere shrubs. In addition, some people experiment with growing palms in areas that would otherwise not support palms (or experiment with growing a larger variety of palms than their climates would normally support) by providing protection or planting in the warmest spots in their yards. On the list below, all places have at least a few unprotected palms that can survive the winters.

1. Washington, D.C.

There is one type of palm that has been quite successful (with other types subject to experimentation and limited success) in Washington, D.C.-the needle palm (Rhapidophyllum hystrix). This is a shrubby palm native to the southeastern United States and can sometimes withstand temperatures below zero (Fahrenheit)! In the National Arboretum, a specimen planted in the 1970s is nearly 10 feet tall, and a needle palm near Dupont Circle is about seven feet tall. The needle palm looks different from most palms as most of the trunk is below the ground, and the large leaves spring up from just above the ground. It still looks quite tropical, especially when seen in a non-tropical city like Washington, D.C.

2. Seattle, Washington

Despite its northerly latitude and abundant conifers, the moderating influence of the Pacific Ocean allows some palms to grow here. The most common is the Chinese windmill palm (Trachycarpus fortunei), which can grow quite large in Seattle. In addition, the cabbage tree (Cordyline australis), which looks like a palm, grows and sometimes even flowers here.

3. Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

One can see palms even north of the United States! As in Seattle, the Pacific Ocean has a strong moderating influence on Vancouverís climate so that Chinese windmill palms and European fan palms (Chamaerops humilis) can grow here.

4. Oklahoma

There are several instances in this state where the hardiest shrubby palms, such as the needle palm and some shrub palmettos (Sabal minor, also known as the dwarf palmetto, and Sabal louisiana) have survived many years outdoors, including in Tulsa and Oklahoma City. One can see several specimens of the dwarf palmetto at the Oklahoma City Zoo.
Most surprising is that the dwarf palmetto is actually native to a small part of extreme southeastern Oklahoma. These small shrubby palms, which here look more like yuccas from a distance, can be found in the countryside near Tom, Oklahoma, not far from where Oklahoma, Texas and Arkansas meet. The dwarf palmetto is native to parts of every former Confederate state, except Tennessee and Virginia.

5. St. George, Utah

Palms in Utah? In the extreme southwest corner of Utah, palms can be found. After all, St. George is only a little bit more than 100 miles from palm-laden Las Vegas. St. George is at the northern limit, along I-15, and has unusually cold winter weather for a place with palms, including an all-time record low of -11 degrees F. While nearly all palms, hardy or not, will succumb to -11, most winters will have their coldest nights in the teens (above zero), and with many sunny mild winter days and low rainfall, several kinds of palms, including the Washington palm (Washingtonia filifera), native to parts of California, Arizona and possibly a very small part of Nevada, will grow large and survive for many years.

6. Bodensee (Lake Konstanz), on the German-Swiss Border

The chilly winters in Europeís interior are just barely warm enough near some of the lakes to support a few palms. A botanical garden along the shores of the Bodensee has some Chinese windmill palms which persist winter after winter.

7. British Isles

Palms have been planted for centuries here, especially near the coast. Even London has some varieties of palms occasionally planted, not only the hardy Chinese windmill palm, but also the jelly palm (Butia capitata). The Chinese windmill palm is also occasionally seen in Dublin, Ireland. In coastal parts of Cornwall, in southwestern England, one has an even greater variety of palms, including the majestic Canary Island date palm (Phoenix canariensis). Even in parts of Scotland, a few palms can grow (likely the furthest north in the world).

8. Tokyo, Japan

Tokyo is more famous for its flowering cherry trees and bonsai evergreens, but a number of palms can survive here. Winters are cool with some occasional snowfall, but the snow usually melts fast and the coldest night during an average year is in the upper 20s, similar to that in Rome, Italy or Orlando, Florida. The main reason that palms are not particularly common here is that they are simply less popular in Japan than in other countries.

9. Plovdiv, Bulgaria

Some large Chinese windmill palms have survived here in central Bulgaria for many winters, some of which have encountered heavy snow and temperatures near zero. One person living here is attempting to develop a genetically hardy breed of Chinese windmill palm from seeds of the survivors of this climate.

10. Yalta, Ukraine

Most of the Ukraine has winters far too cold for palms, but at the tip of the Crimean peninsula, between some mountains and the Black Sea, is a place, sheltered by cold winds, that has a Mediterranean climate. The coldest winter nights are usually around 20 degrees F, which allows several types of palms to grow well here. In addition to the Ukraine, Russia also has a few palm-friendly spots along its part of the Black Sea coast where the Caucasus Mountains provide shelter from winds from the north and east.

Left: Chinese fan palm in London.
Right: Needle palm in Washington, D.C.

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