Trachycarpus fortunei or Chinese Windmill Palm is probably the most renowned hardy palm tree to grow in temperate and cold climates.
Its habitat are mountainous regions in Asia where it grows to 2,500 m altitude and is usually covered in snow in the winter.
Imported in Europe for its hardiness and fast growth, it reproduces and spreads spontaneously in the region of Tessino in Switzerland where it is considered an invasive species!
Add to the hardiness its resistance to drought and excess of water, its capability to grow either in shade or sun (even if it prefers shade at the base and sun at the top) and its wind resistance… and you have the perfect palm for beginners!
Growth is slow the first 3 years but then accelerates.
There are numerous cultivars such as Trachycarpus fortunei ‘Bulgaria’ and Trachycarpus fortunei ‘Wagnerianus’ (formerly considered a different species), selected for better cold hardiness or esthetic reasons.
Trachycarpus fortunei is a palm tree with a trunk up to 14 m high. The woody part is slender, with a maximum diameter of 20-25 cm, usually covered in the younger parts with old leaf bases, old petiole bases and brown fibers associated with them, so that the trunk looks much thicker.
The leaf crown is dense, spherical to obovate if the dead leaf residues are not removed.
The leaves are dark green on both sides, 1-2 m long with 30-50 leaf segments of 60-80 cm long and 2.5-4 cm wide. They form a fan-shape on a petiole of 60-100 cm long.
The plant is dioecious. The inflorescence is displayed in dense, branched panicles of 1 m long. The male flowers are yellow, female flowers are green, 2-4 cm wide.
The fruit is dark purplish-blue when ripe, round, 1 cm in diameter and containing 1 kidney-shaped seed.
In China the strong fibres collected from the stipe are used for manufacturing brushes, door mats, rope…
Chinese Hemp Palm, Chinese Windmill Palm, Chusan Palm, Hemp Palm, Windmill Palm
Chamaerops fortunei, Trachycarpus caespitosus, Trachycarpus wagnerianus
Trachycarpus: from the Greek trachys (rough) and karpos (fruit)
Fortunei: after Robert Fortune (1812-1880) who introduced the palm tree in Europe
Probably China but uncertain as it has been in cultivation for so long
USDA zone 7-11
Young specimens resist to -8 °C, mature specimen resist to -15 °C and exceptionally to -20 °C
Will accommodate to various soils, provided they are well drained
Will grow in any exposure but prefers the base in the shade and the head in the sun
Resists drought as well as too much water
Fertilize regularly with palm tree fertilizer during growing period
- you may soak the seed 1-2 days in water at room temperature (around 20 °C or 68°F) but this is not absolutely required for Trachycarpus
- sow in light soil
- keep at 20°-25°C. Contrary to most exotic species, Trachycarpus does not like too much heat for germination due to its origin
- germination: as fast as a couple of days or weeks if the seeds are very fresh, to a couple of months
- repot in individual pots when the seedlings are big enough to handle