What is a Windmill Palm?

Steve R.

A windmill palm (Trachycarpus fortunei) is a slow-growing palm native to Asia. The palm is capable of reaching heights of up to 40 feet (about 12 meters), but typically ranges between 10 and 20 feet (about 3 to 6 meters) in height, with a six- to 10-foot (about 1.8- to 6-meter) spread. A hardy palm with eight- to 10-foot (about 2.4- to 3-meter) symmetrical leaves and yellow flowers, the windmill palm is able to grow in high altitudes and in areas where the climate is cool and damp in the summer and cold and snowy during the winter.

The windmil palm can survive drought conditions.
The windmil palm can survive drought conditions.

Also known as the Chusan palm or the Chinese windmill palm, the palm contains a trunk that is typically six to 12 inches (about 15 to 30 centimeters) in diameter. The palm grows a little more than one foot (about 0.3 meters) a year. The trunk contains loose gray or brown fiber, which falls off as the tree gets older to expose a smooth, ringed trunk. Leaves, 18 to 36 inches (about 46 to 91 cm) in length, are arranged in a tight fan and are dark green or yellowish green in hue with a silver underside.

Male and female flowers of the windmill palm are dioecious, meaning they grow on different plants. In the spring and summer, the palm bears yellow flowers on the male plants, while females produce green flowers. As the summer progresses, the female’s flowers become dark colored fruit with a single seed. By fall, the inedible fruits, which are about half an inch in length (about 1.3 centimeters), become ripe.

The plant is native to southern and central China, Taiwan, and the Chusan Islands. In the United States, the windmill palm grows in central and northern Florida. It also is able to grow in other areas of the southeast and along the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts, as well as in mild portions of the West Coast. The windmill palm is also capable of growing as far north as British Columbia.

Drought tolerant, windmill palms grow best in well-drained, shaded areas or areas with partial shade, and is often used to accent landscapes. Any severe drought will greatly impact the plants growth rate. The palm is also tolerant of salty and windy conditions. In Asia, the palm can grow at altitudes of 7,874 feet (about 2,400 meters). When the palm reaches maturity, it is capable of withstanding temperatures below freezing. The palm is susceptible to root rot infection, and is prone to attacks from palm aphids.

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