Rhapidophyllum hystrix

Rhapidophyllum hystrix

Rhapidophyllum hystrix or Needle Palm is amongst the most frost resistant with a tolerance to -20 °C and below.

Growth is very slow.

The species is in danger of extinction due to commercial exploitation but will probably survive thanks to ever spreading culture for it’s frost resistance capability and decorative value.

Propagation in the wild occurs vegetatively by suckers sprouting from the stem rather than by seedling reproduction.

Flowers are protandrous (male sex organs maturing before female sex organs thus preventing self pollination) and pollination seems to be done by beetles. The bad smelling and hirsute fruits are eaten by black bears and other mammals.

Contrary to Trachycarpus fortunei, this palm needs warm and humid summers.


Rhapidophyllum hystrix has a shrubby growth and does not exceed 2-3 m height, the stem usually not more than 1 m.

The leaves are a dark brilliant green and white underneath.

The trunk carries very sharp spines which can be 50 cm long and it is advised to wear gloves when manipulating the plant.


Common names:

Needle palm, Porcupine palm


Chamaerops hystrix, Chorypha hystrix, Sabal hystrix, Rhapis caroliniana


Rhapidophyllum: from the Greek rhapis (needle) and phyllon (leaf)
Hystrix: from the Greek hústrix (porcupine)


South-eastern USA


Undergrowth in moist or wet forest


USDA Zone 6-11, -20 °C
Some reports mention frost resistance to -29 °C

Rhapidophyllum hystrix spines

Rhapidophyllum hystrix spines



Rich, well drained but humid to wet, summer and winter.


Shade, semi-shade, light


Prefers a moist to wet soil, winter and summer


Fertilize during growing season


Seed, Suckers

Sowing instructions:

  • soak for 7 days in distilled water at 30 °C, refresh water daily
  • sow in light humid sowing mix
  • maintain 40 °C for 6 hours followed by 25 °C for 18 hours
  • scarification of the seeds will dramatically shorten the germination time and rate (1-3 weeks and 98%)
  • germination: 6 months to 2 years, 1 to 3 weeks when scarified
  • repot when the seedlings or suckers are big enough to handle


  • the suckers formed at the stem can be taken and repotted