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What is Bismarckia?

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  • Written By: Nick Doniger
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 06 November 2016
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Bismarckia nobilis, also known as the bismarck palm, is a large tropical palm tree in the family Arecaceae. It is prized for its visual appeal, sporting wide, bluish colored leaves. Though being native to Africa, the tree has been introduced to tropical regions in North America as well. Under certain conditions, smaller bismarck palms may be kept indoors, though the tree generally requires a lot of growing space. Bismarckia grows best in hot climates and fairly dry soil, yet it is known for its hardiness in varying environmental conditions.

Though native to Madagascar, a large island off the southeast coast of Africa, bismarck palms have also been found in Suriname. These palms are not native to North America, but have been introduced to various parts of Florida, where they seem to have thrived. Wherever the tree is grown, bismarckia requires a large amount of space due to its massive size, the only exception being when it is kept as a small palm in indoor containers.

Bismarck palms belong to the family Arecaceae. Other trees within this family include coconut palms, royal palms, and ivory nut palms. The bismarck palm, however, is the only species belonging to the genus bismarckia.

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Reaching up to 60 feet (about 18 meters) tall and 20 feet (about 6 meters) or wider, the bismarck palm is treasured for its massive presence. The light bluish-gray, palmate leaves grow up to 10 feet (about 3 meters) across and have a waxy feel. Such leaves are classified as broadleaf evergreen, showing no color change during the autumn season. Bismarckia grows with a single trunk, wide in diameter, which adds to the palm's remarkably symmetrical appearance. Small, round, brown fruit are produced by the tree, which tend not to attract animals or pests.

Another reason the palm is popular is due to its hardiness in different climates. It grows best in zone 10 and zone 11 climates, where the lowest probable temperature in winter is around 40 degrees Fahrenheit (about 4.5 degrees Celsius). Bismarck palms can, however, be sustained in zone 9 regions, in which temperatures may reach as low as 20 degrees Fahrenheit (about -6.7 degrees Celsius) during the winter — the tree is able to withstand mild frosts. Overall, bismarckia has a fairly slow growth rate, though the warmer the climate, the faster the palm will grow.

Bismarck palms generally prefer full sunlight and are highly drought resistant. They are adaptable to varying soil types and are fairly salt tolerant, though they thrive best in slightly acidic, well-drained soil. These trees require little upkeep as well, as pruning is rarely necessary.

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