A Palm Grows in New England?

Of all the plants in the world, I really do love palms. I find it fascinating that these essentially big blades of grass can add such a dramatic effect to the landscape. That’s right, palms are monocots and like grass blades, they have a terminal growing point.

I remember when growing up in Raleigh, NC that there were big windmill palms (Trachycarpus fortunei) growing beside of one of the community centers in town. Later, when we lived in Wimington, NC, there were palm trees along most streets. From the native sabal palms to the arching Butia capitata from South America, Wilmington has its fair share of palms.

Needle Palm

When we lived in Pennsylvania, I had tried growing palms but with no success. So when I first toured Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens and saw needle palms planted out in the landscape, I laughed and immediately dismissed the experiment. Well, I am pleased to say, the joke is now on me. The grouping of needle palms, Rhapidophyllum hystrix, made it through this past winter here in Boothbay, Maine. Locals tell me that this past winter was a pretty wicked winter in terms of snow and cold so the fact that these palms made it is a great sign. We did wrap the palms in cages and protect their crowns with leaf compost.

Needle palm south

Needle palms are native to the southeastern United States. They can ultimately grow to over 6′ in height and 8′ in width. The trunk on needle palms is short and covered with spines that look like needles, thus the name. When the plants are happy, they flower and fruit just inside of the protection zone of the needles. I have been told that the needles serve as an evolutionary adaptation to protect the flowers and fruit.

I am ecstatic that these plants survived! A lot of our guests spend their winters in Florida and other warmer climes so I cannot wait to show them our palm trees this summer.


Images: chillypalmtree.com, plantlust.com

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rodney eason

Rodney Eason - Director of Horticulture and Plant Curator at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, father of 4, husband to a Renaissance woman. I spent the first part of my life in North Carolina, the middle in Pennsylvania, and now I am determined to become a Mainer  while keeping my southern drawl. I consider the rhetorical question, "you're not from around here, are you?" a compliment. I love great gardens, beautiful plants, and inspiring architecture. Because of this, I am on a lifelong quest to find a garden that artistically combines beautiful plants while being centered around an evocative building. For me, this would be Beatrix Farrand's Dumbarton Oaks, with the plants of Lotusland and Chanticleer, around Fay Jones' Thorncrown Chapel. My wife and I are now making our new home and garden in a 130 year old New England house with a farmer's porch near the Damariscotta River in coastal Maine. When our kids get into college, we want to hike the Appalachian Trail as a family over a summer break. My likes (in random order): the smell of fresh basil and rosemary, bold foliage, India Pale Ale, good running shoes, Top Gear, the smell of New England in the fall (it reminds me a bit of English Leather, which my grandfather wore), and the sound of our family laughing together around the dinner table. I dream of one day owning an old Toyota 4X4 pick-up and seeing the Avett Brothers in concert.
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  1. Jessica on April 17, 2013 at 8:20 am

    I’m always excited to read your posts. I love palms and live in southern Maine. Thanks very much for sharing!!

    • rodneyeason on April 17, 2013 at 8:31 am

      Thanks, Jessica. Enjoy this warm(er) weather!

  2. Paul on April 19, 2013 at 8:03 pm

    Wow, amazing pictures. Their dark green leaves makes it a beautiful addition to your landscape. Do you use any specific fertilizers or products to boost soil conditions to promote your palm growth?

  3. Jen on April 23, 2013 at 10:27 pm

    What exciting news—we’re turning our deck into a tiki bar (well, turned) and a few palms would, of course, look perfect! Good info to know, thanks!

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