Madagascar palm pachypodium lamerei

Madagascar Palm

Botanical Name: Pachypodium lamerei

Madagascar Palm is long-lived and easy to please. This semi-succulent plant requires very little water, even less in the winter. Just put it the full sun of a west- or south-facing window and it needs little attention to thrive.

Did you know…

Pachypodium comes from the Greek pachy meaning thick and podium meaning foot, referring to the thick trunk of this tree.

This popular Pachypodium has a shiny silver trunk covered with long, sharp spines. The trunk may branch out, making it even more attractive. A tuft of long, narrow leaves grow only at the top of the trunk, like a palm tree. However, it isn’t really a palm but a succulent from the Apocyanaceae family.

In the summer, clusters of fragrant, white flowers will appear on mature plants that are grown outdoors. Don’t expect it to bloom indoors, unless you can provide plenty of direct sunlight.

You may want to move this sun-loving succulent outdoors to your porch or patio for the summer. Just remember to bring it back inside when the temperature drops — it won’t tolerate frost.

Repot in spring every 3-4 years or when it outgrows its pot. It’s a good idea to use a heavy container to prevent toppling. This thick-trunked tree can get top-heavy. Also, be careful of those spines when handling this plant. Wear thick garden gloves and wrap a newspaper or old towel around the trunk when repotting it to protect your hands.

Leaf drop in winter is perfectly normal. Madagascar palm may even drop all its leaves. But, don’t worry. It’ll grow more leaves in spring when it gets the sunshine and warmth it loves. When it comes out of dormancy and you see new leaves growing, that’s your cue to resume normal watering and fertilizing.

Madagascar Palm Care Tips

Origin: Madagascar, Africa

Height: Can reach 6 ft (1.8 m) indoors, much taller if grown outdoors in a frost-free climate.

Light: Full sun

Water: Water thoroughly and allow top half of soil to dry out between waterings. In winter, water sparingly just to keep the soil from drying out completely. Plant in a pot with drainage holes to prevent root rot.

Humidity: Average indoor humidity (around 40% relative humidity).

Temperature: Average room temperatures 60-75°F/16-24°C. If you move your plant outdoors for the summer, don’t worry — it can take the heat. Just bring it back in when the temperature drops.

Soil: Cactus potting mix works well to provide fast drainage. Or you can use 2 parts all-purpose potting mix with 1 part sharp sand or perlite.

Fertilizer: Feed in spring and summer with a cactus/succulent fertilizer.

Propagation: Sow seeds in spring. Offsets can be cut away from the parent plant and potted up separately.

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The Pachypodium lamerei plant is not a cactus but gets labeled as one. The barrel stem of the “Cactus Palm” is covered with thick spines. It carries an umbrella of shiny green leaves.

This succulent plant has an unusual combination of tropical leaves making Pachypodium plants look like a member of a desert cactus family and makes for a real conversation piece.

Pachypodiums are part of the Apocynaceae family, which includes a wide variety of genus, including various trees and shrubs.

Pachypodium means “thick foot,” which is fitting. The plant is a stem succulent plant. These plants primarily conduct photosynthesis through the stem instead of the leaves.

Its common name is the “Madagascar Palm” however, it goes by a few other names:

  • Summer-blooming clubfoot
  • Three-spined clu bfoot
  • Ghost men plant
  • Pachy

While it’s native to southern Madagascar, this “cactus palm” makes a lovely houseplant growing in USDA hardiness zones 9a through 11. Use the following plant care tips to keep your “pachy” healthy.

Madagascar Palm Care

How Tall Does The Cactus Palm Get?

People often purchase Madagascar plants as small plants without trunks. Mature plants can grow to reach 20′ feet tall.

However, the Pachypodium lamerei grows quickly and may reach up to three feet in just a couple of years.

The long “cactus palm stem” also begins to thicken and can hold quite a bit of water. As the cactus palm tree matures, it starts to get too top heavy, requiring a heavy pot to keep it from tipping over.

During the spring, Madagascar palms begin to grow their long shiny leaves.

The leaves typically reach up to 15” inches long and four inches wide. They almost resemble drooping pickles extending from the top of the trunk to the cactus base.

The leaves fall off in the winter, leaving just the cactus base. However, new leaves form in the spring.

Does The Madagascar Palm Flower and Have a Fragrance?

If you’re lucky, the Madagascar monolith may produce small white flowers between the leaves.

The flowers are unscented and typically only appear when the plant is grown in conditions that resemble its native environment.

What Light and Temperature Does Pachypodium “Cactus” Grow Best?

Madagascar Palm trees are sun-loving, prefers warm weather, bright light and full sun in some locations. When positioning plants, place Pachypodiums in a south-facing window with lots of full sunlight.

When growing indoors you may want to keep it near a heater vent or register to ensure it stays warm in the winter months.

During the winter, the plant should never be kept below 55°degrees Fahrenheit.

When plants are kept it warm enough, they may retain a few of its leaves throughout the winter.

How Much Water and Fertilizer Do Madagascar Palms Need?

Keep the palm cactus on the dry side and water only when the soil is dry. When watering, the plants should be thoroughly watered throughout the summer and decrease the watering during the winter.

When the leaves fall off, STOP watering.

At the beginning of spring and the beginning of summer apply a balanced houseplant fertilizer (liquid or granular).

This will help to encourage new growth during the warmer months when plants are actively growing. However, if your potting soil contains fertilizer, the plants should not need to add any extra.

What Is The Best Soil Type For A Madagascar Cactus?

Like many succulent and cactus type plants Pachypodiums grow best in the regular cactus soil mix.

This mix tends to provide superior drainage, which helps keep the roots from rotting.

If you need to transplant the plant, repot it in the spring just as it starts to wake from dormancy. Also, we like to use clay pots with drainage holes over plastic to keep plants on the “dry side.”

Grooming and Maintenance

The only grooming needed is the removal of dead or decaying leaves.

How To Propagate Pachypodium Lamerei

You can propagate the Pachypodium lamerei from offsets or seeds. Both can be purchased or taken from the plant. However, Madagascar palm propagation from seeds is difficult.

The seeds don’t germinate easily. When growing Pachypodium plants from seed, place the seed in warm water for one day. Sow in moist sand and keep them at room temperature.

When starting from offsets collect the offsets from the plant. Search for ball-shaped cacti growing near the trunk. They should be just below the leaves.

Carefully break these offsets off the trunk and allow them to dry for about four to eight days.

Place the small plants in individual pots, with a mixture of one-part soil to three parts sand.

Keep the plants warm until the roots form. The leaves may immediately die off. However, after the plants take root, the leaves should resume growing.

Madagascar Palms Pest and Diseases

The biggest threat to the health of your Madagascar Palm is overwatering resulting in root rot.

People often overwater succulents and cacti. It’s easy to think that they are dried out when the trunk still contains water.

One of the risks of overwatering is breakage. A long spindly trunk of the plant may suddenly snap in half and tip over. However, this also occurs when plants are kept in a location where they do not get enough light or cold.

When the plant bends in half, it can’t be brought back to life.

NOTE: If the plant tips over, but does not break, you can attempt to revive it by placing it in a mixture of soil and sand. Limit the watering to see if the roots strengthen.

You shouldn’t be in a rush to grow this plant and it doesn’t need much water. It grows quickly enough on its own.

If you don’t water the plant enough, plants may experience leaf drop during the summer instead of the winter. If the leaves turn yellow, you may need to use liquid plant fertilizer.

Spider mites and whitefly can be a problem. Look for these pests on the undersides of the leaves. A good rinse of some Neem oil should keep them under control.

What Are The Best Uses For Pachypodium Lamerei?

You’ll most likely want to grow them as attractive houseplants, where indoors the plant will enjoy the warm temperatures to grow. Remember to choose a south-facing window for optimal exposure to sunlight.

However, the Madagascar palm makes an excellent addition to with other potted outdoor landscape plants such as the Desert Rose Adenium.

The plant also looks great when placed around other cacti. Madagascar Palm flowers will eventually tower over the smaller plants and become the focal point of the display.

Madagascar Palm Care: How To Grow Madagascar Palm Indoors

Native to southern Madagascar, the Madagascar palm (Pachypodium lamerei) is a member of the succulent and cactus family. Even though this plant has the name “palm,” it is not actually a palm tree at all. Madagascar palms are grown in warmer regions as outdoor landscape plants and in cooler areas as attractive houseplants. Let’s learn more about growing a Madagascar palm indoors.

Madagascar palms are engaging looking plants that will grow from 4 to 6 feet indoors and up to 15 feet outdoors. A long spindly trunk is covered with exceptionally thick spines and leaves form at the top of the trunk. This plant very rarely, if ever, develops branches. Aromatic yellow, pink or red flowers develop in the winter. Madagascar palm plants are an excellent addition to any sun-filled room.

How to Grow Madagascar Palm Indoors

Madagascar palms are not difficult to grow as houseplants as long as they receive enough light and are planted in well-draining soil. Be sure to place the plant in a container with drainage holes to avoid root rot.

Growing a Madagascar palm plant from seeds is sometimes possible. The seeds should be soaked for at least 24 hours in warm water before planted. The Madagascar palm can be extremely slow to sprout, so it is essential that you be patient. It may take anywhere from three weeks to six months to see a sprout.

It is easier to propagate this plant by breaking off a piece of growing shoots above the base and allowing them to dry for a week. After they are dry, the shoots can be planted in a soil mix that drains well.

Madagascar palms require bright light and fairly warm temperatures. Give the plant water when the surface soil is dry. Like many other plants, you can water less in the winter. Water just enough to keep the soil from drying out.

Use a diluted houseplant fertilizer at the beginning of spring and the beginning of summer. If Madagascar palms are happy and healthy, they will grow about 12 inches a year and bloom profusely.

If your palm shows signs of disease or pest infestation, remove the damaged parts. Most palms go dormant during the winter, so do not be surprised if some leaves fall or the plant does not look particularly happy. Growth will start up again in the spring.

Madagascar Palm

The Madagascar Palm, Pachypodium lamerei, may look like a small palm, but it is actually an easy-to-grow, succulent shrub with an interesting shiny silver trunk. The crown displays long, narrow green leaves that only grow at the top of the trunk, like a palm tree. Native to Madagascar, this exotic specimen looks incredible whether planted in an outdoor garden or kept in a beautiful pot and used as a houseplant.

Sure to be a conversation starter, this unique-looking beauty will thrive in full sun or partial shade environments and loves bright light. If used as a houseplant, be sure to place this plant in a well-lit part of your home. This engaging plant can really shine when planted outdoors with other Madagascar Palms. Some homeowners may want to plant this unique-looking Madagascar Palm in their front yard or backyard for use in a subtropical or tropical landscape theme.

While the Madagascar Palm can stay indoors and grow in the same pot for many years, this succulent shrub loves to grow outdoors in a group with other palms and cacti. Since they are moderately salt-tolerant, they are a good choice for coastal environments from San Diego to Orange County and Los Angeles. They and are sure to bring year round interest on any landscape in the Southwest.

Bigger, mature plants may bloom lightly fragrant, trumpet-shaped white flowers that give this plant its unique, Plumeria-like features. It requires low to moderate water use once established and has a slow growth rate. Due to its slow growth rate, buy as big as you can to experience all of the pleasing features of a mature Madagascar Palm. Come visit one of our huge nurseries and our nursery pro’s will be happy to help you select the perfect Madagascar Palm for your landscaping needs.

At Moon Valley Nurseries, we grow and nurture the finest Madagascar Palm specimens in the Southwest. Let our landscape crew do all the work. You buy it ‘“ we can deliver and plant!

MADAGASCAR PALM

Native to Madagascar. Not a palm, though it looks something like one. Attractive, easy-to-grow shrub with impressive silhouette: spiny, succulent, unbranched trunk topped with a circle of strap-shaped leaves to 1 feet long and 14 inches wide. Usually seen at 24 feet high and 2 feet wide, though it can grow to 18 feet tall and 8 feet wide under ideal conditions. Large, old plants may bloom in summer, bearing fragrant, saucer-shaped white flowers to 4 inches across; smaller, younger plants seldom bloom. May take up to 10 years or more to fully mature.

Madagascar palm can be grown outdoors year-round in mild-winter areas. Elsewhere, it can be raised in a container (use a clay pot, not a plastic one) and summered outside or grown exclusively as a houseplant. Indoors, place it in maximum light before a south- or west-facing window. In spring and summer, let the soil go dry between waterings, and fertilize at every other watering with a general-purpose liquid houseplant fertilizer diluted to half-strength. Good drainage is critical. Leaves usually drop in winter (though specimens grown in south Florida and houseplants may hold their foliage). Whether grown indoors or out, the plant requires no water or fertilizer in fall and winter; resume watering and feeding when new growth begins.

Pachypodium Lamerei (Madagascar Palm)

Pachypodium Care Guide

Light

This is a sun-loving houseplant so always pick the sunniest spot you have. They’ll still do pretty well in bright conditions, but anything considered “medium” light or lower should be avoided.

These plants put out almost all of their new growth during the Summer. So, in theory, you could bring your plant indoors to a slightly lower lit location over late fall, winter and early spring before moving it outside to a sunny spot.

Watering

A common myth about succulents is that they don’t need much water. It’s true they will survive much longer than some other types of houseplants which have higher watering needs, but even the most resilient succulents won’t thrive if you treat them this way.

A common myth about succulents is that they do not need much water

If you want a thriving Pachypodium water yours liberally in the Summer months whenever the soil dries out. In Winter you should cut back to prevent the roots rotting in the cooler conditions, instead only water sparingly. Perhaps once or twice a month at most.

Humidity

Unimportant.

Feeding

The Pachypodium is not a heavy feeder, so you will only need to fertilise a few times a year at most. As always only do it when the plant is in active growth.

Temperature

Warm temperatures are needed for this plant. No lower than 10°C (50°F) in Winter.

Repotting

They take considerable time to outgrow their pots, however you may choose to repot your Pachypodium if it starts to wobble or topple from becoming top-heavy.

A standard soil mix is fine, but if you want to be extra safe add a little bit of grit to improve drainage. or use a labeled succulent / cacti compost mix. You can repot your plant at any time of the year, however take care when you do it because the spines can be painful if you grab the stem in the wrong way.

These plants can get real big (see the photos in the comment section below), so repotting might not be possible. In those circumstances, top dress by removing the top inch of soil and replacing it with fresh.

Propagation

Courageous readers may like to try and remove then pot up the offsets that are eventually produced around the base. Although, it’s very difficult for the average houseplant owner to do this successfully.

Speed of Growth

This is a slow growing plant. However, if you water well and provide good light in Summer you will notice more growth at this time of the year. Growth at any other time of the year is less common.

Height / Spread

Natively it can reach staggering heights, although In cultivation it’s much more restrained. After many (and we do mean many) years the stem could reach upwards of 4ft / 1.2m in height and up to 24in / 60cm in diameter.

Out in their native habitat, the trunk can branch out so you end up with multiple stems, but this is much less likely to happen indoors.

Flowers

The flowering of the Madagascar Palm is rare indoors because the plant needs to reach maturity and tall heights first. There are always exceptions of course and if you do achieve flowers they will be white, numerous and star-shaped.

The flowers can be fragrant, depending on the species and they tend to last a few weeks.

Are Pachypodium Plants Poisonous?

The sap is poisonous to pets and people. However it’s difficult to get at due to the protective spines on the trunk, so it’s likely your pet or child will avoid the plant as a result. In fact, more damage is caused by these spines than the plant’s sap.

Although the sap within the plant is an irritant, most pets and children will be deterred by the protective spines

Anything else?

Pachypodiums are adaptive houseplants, and will take a wide range of temperature and light changes and adjust accordingly. Our instructions above will help you grow a good specimen, but even if you treat it badly from time to time it should stay alive for quite a long time.

How to Care for Pachypodium Summary

  1. High Light These are high light loving houseplants. Either place it in a south facing window or if this can’t be provided move it outside during the Summer.

  2. Moderate Watering Warm temperatures and lots of light will mean more water is needed than if you choose a cooler less bright location.

  3. Temperature Pachypodium plants do not like the cold. Always avoid anything close to sub zero temperatures.

  4. Feeding You don’t need to feed these plants frequently, but once or twice over the Summer would be helpful.

Pachypodium Problems

Roots of Pachypodium are rotten and black (Root Rot)

This is a classic result of overwatering and constantly saturated soil, especially in Winter. If the rot isn’t too widespread remove the dead roots, follow our watering instructions here going forward and the plant should eventually recover.

If all the roots are dead then the plant like many a cactus is likely a lost cause, as a last ditch effort you can still remove all the dead roots and pot the “trunk” into fresh moist (not wet) compost then put in a light and warm place. There is a possibility new roots will grow from the base.

Leaves falling off (Summer)

The leaves only grow around the top of the plant, as it ages it’s normal therefore to see the lower leaves falling off a Pachypodium. In a short while new leaves will emerge from the crown to replace those which have fallen.

Leaves falling off (Winter)

If the plant has been positioned in a hot spot with great Winter sunlight it may have been fooled into thinking it’s still Summer, in which case it will still be growing (see issue above), i.e. this leaf fall is normal and nothing to be concerned about.

However if the plant is “resting” and growth has completely stopped, but leaves are still falling it could be a sign the temperature is too low and dormancy has been triggered. Completely withhold watering until new leaves start to appear in the middle of Spring onwards (this could take up to a month or two).

If all leaves fall off, it’s time to inspect the roots for root rot. If there is no sign of rot, wait until Spring comes around and new leaves should start growing again.

About the Author

Tom Knight

Over the last 20 years Tom has successfully owned hundreds of houseplants and is always happy to share knowledge and lend his horticulture skills to those in need. He is the main content writer for the Ourhouseplants Team.

Also on Ourhouseplants.com

Credit for Pachypodium flower photo – Article / Gallery – Bach01

These Tips on How to Care for a Madagascar Palm Tree are Pure Gold

This small, thick trunk is not an actual palm tree but a member of the cactus family. It grows easily, and is less maintainable. Gardenerdy provides all the information on how to care for a Madagascar Palm tree.

The botanical name of Madagascar Palm is Pachypodium lamerei. In Greek Pachypodium means thick foot, which refers to the thick trunk of this tree.

This sun-loving tree is native to southern Madagascar, Africa. Although, named as ‘palm’ due to its similar appearance to a palm-like top and swollen trunk, it’s actually a cacti succulent from the Apocynaceae family.

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It has qualities of, both, an indoor as well as an outdoor plant. With its aromatic flowers and unique appearance, it can be best grown in temperate climates. It requires full sunlight, and is drought-resistant. One amazing phenomenon is, prior to its first bloom, it produces distinctive seed pods that look like cucumbers, which eventually open along the seam revealing great numbers of white-winged seeds.

Let’s get to know this tree a little better.

Growth & Appearance

The Madagascar palm can be grown through seeds, but it’s a long process. The seeds need to be soaked at least for 24 hours in warm water before planting them. It requires at least 3 weeks to 6 months to sprout. The best way to grow them is, to break off small shoots from the base and dry them for a week, then, plant them in a mix soil setting, indoors or outdoors.

They require plenty of sunlight; hence, plant them in a sunny place outdoors. If they are planted indoors as a potted plant, then, an area which is exposed to plenty of sunlight, like the patio, is ideal. They can grow in U.S. hardiness zone 10, and in warmer areas of zone 9B as well.

While planting them outdoors, plant them in a group, but make sure, they are well spaced. Planting them away from areas that are easily accessible to children and pets as they are poisonous in nature, is advisable. Make sure there are no other high maintenance plants growing next to them as they can hamper their growth.

They generally follow a slow growth pattern. They can grow up to 4 to 6 feet indoors, whereas outdoors up to 15 feet. The long swollen trunk is covered with exceptionally thick spines measuring approximately 2.5-inch. These spines appear like shiny, silver, pointy, hard needles, and the leaves form at the top of the trunk. It rarely develops branches, and gives out aromatic yellow, pink or red flowers in winter.

Care & Maintenance

The Madagascar palm requires cactus potting mix, or 2 parts all-purpose potting mix with 1 part sharp sand or perlite as soil. An indoor palm fertilizer is required only during summer and spring.

A potted palm will require repotting every 2 to 3 years during spring as it outgrows the pot. Place it in a pot with holes at the bottom to drain out excess water. Do not over-water the tree as it may cause the trunk to rot.

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While handling the tree, make sure to wear thick protective gear and cover the trunk with several layers of newspaper or thick towels as every part of the tree is poisonous.

The tree goes into hibernation during winter; hence, it is normal for the leaves to drop completely. New leaves will grow again during spring.

Diseases & Pest Control

Cold weather might damage a Madagascar palm. It rots and looks like a soft, mushy tissue with a crumpled, withered look. Prune it by removing the damaged branch entirely or partly, on the area that is affected.

When infected by pests and leaves which are eaten by bugs, simply pull off the infected leaves. Do not use excessive fertilizers on the tree as it might give burn the leaves.

There might be the occasional infestation of mites or white fly larvae that may attach themselves to the bottom of the palm fronds. These can be cleared out with insecticides and fungicides in the form of sprays, soapy rinses, or systemic poisons.

This small, quirky, palm-like tree requires less attention, and is readily available in nurseries; hence, it’s a popular succulent in the world.

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For the thousandth time, it’s NOT a palm

Perhaps because my Davesgarden name is Palmbob, I get a lot of D-mail asking me questions about many folk’s plants- usually something called a palm. But not always a palm. Fortunately I happen to know a little bit about many of the other plants with the palm name as most are also interesting in some way or another so I can fake my way through most questions. But it is important to know what is a palm and what is NOT one, as most non-palms need different care than do most palms.

When I first began to learn about palms 10 years ago I rebelled against the scientific naming of my plants as that was not how I was raised up to that point in my life. Surely all these palms had common names, too… why waste my time learning the scientific names? Well, turns out 99% of palms in the world do NOT have common names (though the folks at Davesgarden are pretty good at coming up with something for a lot of the ones I have added, however obscure). A bunch of us newbie palm growers even began to make up our own common names for some of the palms we liked best, but this just confused everyone we talked to… And eventually I gave in and learned the scientific names to the palms (and all other plants I was growing). And now I seem to know ONLY the scientific names of most plants I deal with. So when someone asks me about various ‘palms’ using a common name I am often unprepared to help them as I have no idea what most plant’s common names are. Often these ‘palms’ turn out to be succulents, cycads etc. or some other totally NON-palm plant. I would like to urge all of you readers to learn the scientific names to your plants you like as discussing plants by their latin names actually decreases the confusion (opposite of what I used to think)- most plants have only one latin name (sadly this is not true all the time – plants are always being moved about by the taxonomists and assigned new names every 20 years or so)… but many plants have lots of common names… and many different plants share common names to make the confusion even worse.

Some of the most frequent questions concern the husbandry of one’s bottle palm (there is such a palm as a bottle palm, but what they are almost always referring to is a completely unrelated succulent known as a Beaucarnea), or Madagascan Palm (there are hundreds of true palms from Madagascar… but they are never asking about any of them- they are asking about a Pachypodium, a spiny succulent from Madagascar that is not even closely related to a true palm). I get inquiries about cabbage palms (of which there are dozens of true palms with this moniker… but usually they are asking about a Cordyline of some sort, another completely NON-palm plant). But by far the most commonly referred to ‘palm’ is the Sago Palm (and, again, there IS a true palm called the Sago Palm- a Metroxylon species)… but this is a Cycad, not a palm, and not even remotely closely related to palms. I never give people a hard time about these annoying common names as I remember when I was in their shoes. But it worries me when someone acquires a ‘palm’ and then starts treating it like a palm… and rots it to death. These experiences not only create a lot of disappointment, but can give true palms a bad reputation (OK, so this really is not a big deal, but it still bugs me). Seems that just about any plant that grows on a thick, solitary stalk and has a head of simple leaves radiating out in all directions is called a palm by someone.

If you’re curious what sorts of plants are called palms that are NOT palms, just put the word PALM in the plantfiles common name slot here on Davesgarden and click search… or go here. As you can see, three of the first four plants that come up are not palms (a Beaucarnea, a Cycad and a Papyrus). You would think these would be listed last on this long list, but I really have no clue why the order is what it is in the plantfiles. The first page includes another cycad, and aroid, a couple Pachypodiums, two Yuccas, and a banana relative. Barely half the plants on this first search page are true palms. It’s no wonder people are confused!

The following are just a few of the plants that are NOT palms… but called palms.

Pony Tail Palms- these are Beaucarneas, which are related to Agaves, not palms. They are only called palms because of their solitary (sometimes- these plants can often have multiple trunks as well as branches) stems and simple head of grass-like leaves. These really don’t look all that much like palms to me, and they certainly shouldn’t be treated like palms. These plants are succulents with huge, fat water-storing bases. Most are not suited to being given a lot of water or they will rot. Other non-palm like characteristic includes their being able to regenerate from having their heads chopped off (something few true palms can survive), and these chopped off heads being able to be easily rooted to form another plant. Fortunately there are no TRUE palms with the name ‘Pony Tail Palm’ so the confusion is only moderate for this common name.

Beaucarnea recurvata and gracilis are two species often referred to as Pony Tail Palms, though clearly neither are even remotely related to palms (and not even sure why Beaucarnea gracilis would be called a Pony Tail Palm anyway… have you ever seen a spikey tail like that on a pony?).

Bottle Palms are another name for Beaucarneas. Unfortunately there IS a real palm called the Bottle Palm, too, and this confusion can be a real problem as the two are nearly at the opposite end of the cultivational spectrum (one is a desert, drought tolerant, moderately cold tolerant succulent, while the other is a tropical, water-needy palm, Hyophorbe lagenicaulis).

Bottle ‘Palms’ Beaucarnea stricta and Beaucarnea recurvatas, in the desert gardens

The TRUE Bottle Palm, Hyophorbe lagenicaulis

Sago Palms- as I mentioned already, there are some true palms called Sago palms (the Metroxylons), called such because one can derive and edible starch from their trunks called ‘sago’. But most people who do any landscaping know the Sago Palm as the cycad Cycas revoluta (actually there are several Cycas species with this moniker- Queen Sago Palms are either Cycas circinalis, or Cycas rumphii; Prince Sago Palms are Cycas taitungensis). Cycads are more closely related to pine trees than to palm trees as they are non-flower producing plants. Their reproductive structures are cones, not flowers, so they are pretty distantly related to palms- about as far as you can get and still be a large plant. Fortunately Cycas species seem to have a pretty close relationship to palms cultivationally so watering one like one would a palm will rarely get one into trouble. But still, there are quite a number of other important differences in terms of root, caudex (trunk) and leaf care.

Sago palm (Cycas revoluta) Queen Sago Palm (Cycas rumphii)

Cycas circinalis (another Queen Sago ‘Palm’) Cycas taitungensis, aka Prince Sago ‘Palm’

the TRUE Sago Palms, Metroxylon sagu and Metroxylon warburgii

Cardboard Palms are also actually cycads (Zamia furfuracea) but they, too, can handle water as easily as a Cycas species, if not more so. Still, NOT a palm, or even close! This one doesn’t even look that much like a palm so I am not sure how they came up with the name.

Zamia furfuracea, the Cardboard ‘Palm’. Does this even remotely look like a palm?

I was quite amazed to see Royal Palm listed as a species of cycad as well (Dioon caputoi- about the least palm like of all the Dioons). Not sure where that name came up, either, but fortunately most think of a true palm when they hear they name Royal Palm (the Roystonea genus, though some other palms are also called Royal palms for some reason).

Dioon caputoi- aka Royal ‘Palm’ (does this look like a palm to you… or ‘royal’?)

Two REAL Royal Palms, Roystonea borinquenia and Roystonia oleracea

I learned recently that Gum Palms are the common name for Dioon spinulosums, a great and somewhat palm-like cycad from Mexico. But NOT a palm. However, this plant can be grown somewhat like a palm in that it has a lot of the same cultivational needs (lots of water, fertilizer and sunshine). As far as I know, there is no real palm called a Gum Palm.

Dioon spinulosums (aka Gum Palms) looking somewhat palm like?

Another cycad withe a palm name is Encephalartos cerinus, the Blue Wax Palm. To me it looks very little like a palm, and is an easy plant to rot if you water it like a palm. True Wax palms are in the Ceroxylon genus and are massive, tall South American palms with thick, waxy coats on their trunks.

Encephalartos cerinus (aka Blue Wax Palm) and REAL Wax Palms (Ceroxylon alpinum and Ceroxylon ventricosum)

When one is discussing Cabbage Palms, one might be referring to a variety of real palms (Sabals, Livistonas, Acoelorrhaphe, Roystonea altissima and Prestoea acuminata). All these palms are called so because the ‘cabbage’ or new growth at the top of the palm may be, or at one time been, eaten. All palms have ‘cabbage’ so why some get called Cabbage Palms and others do not is beyond me. Either way, Cabbage Palm is also the common name applied to many varieties of Cordyline, a succulent-like tree in the Agave family. These are solitary to branched woody-stemmed plants with agave-like heads. I have rotted many myself trying to water them like palms, so I would be carefully to learn that these are NOT palms and treat them more like Agaves. Perhaps the tops of these plants are edible for their ‘cabbage’ as well?

two cultivars of Cordylie australis (aka Cabbage ‘Palms’)

Livistona australis (Cabbage Palm) Sabal palmettos (Cabbage Palms)

Livistona mariae (Cabbage Palm) Prestoea acuminata ‘montana’, another Cabbage Palm

Umbrella Palm is a name for a species of Papyrus that is really a glorified water grass with a pom-pom on top. But Umbrella Palm is also the name of one of my favorite palms, Hedyscepe canterburyana, a beauty from the Lord Howe Islands off Australia. The two could hardly be more unalike, though admittedly these two are more closely related than just about any other double monikers on this list (palms are also related to grasses).

a Cyperus sp. (Papyrus) aka Umbrella Palm; Hedyscepe canterburyana, the TRUE Umbrella Palm

Most often when one thinks of Madagascar Palms, they are really thinking of the bizarre succulents (from Madagascar) with fat, intensely spiny trunks and a simple rosette of lancelote leaves at the top… not very palm- like if you ask me, but the basic shape is the same I guess. Though these are great plants and I have a number in the yard, they are very poor plants to go about treating like palms as they will rot in front of your eyes if you water them like one. The can also be beheaded to grow more branches, unlike the case with true palms. There are hundreds of true palms from Madagascar, by the way, though I am only aware of one actually called a Madagascan Palm (Dypsis pinnatifrons) and one called Madagascar Palm (Dypsis lutescens, which has a LOT of other misleading common names as well) -only a handful of all true palms from Madagascar have common names.

Pachypodium lamerei and geayi (not very palm-like to me)

Dypsis lutescens, the Madagascar Palm; Dyspsi pinnatifrons, the Madagascan Palm, and Lemurophoenix, another palm from Madagascar

The name Aroid Palm sort of gives away the fact that this plant, Zamioculcas zamiifolia, is NOT a palm at all, but an aroid. It is a common house plant and a succulent as well, but this one does even begin to look like a palm (multiple rubber, succulent stems covered with ‘non-palm-like’ leaves). So not sure where that name came from.

Zamioculcas- To me this is the least palm-like ‘palm’ of the entire group

There are several Alocasias (also aroids) also called Persian Palms. The only true Persian Palm (not the common name for it, though) is Nannorhops, a super-drought tolerant, rugged palm from Iran, Iraq and the surrounding countries. This time it’s the true palm that should be treated more like a succulent rather than the other way around. To me, Alocasias do not resemble palms any more than boat oar does.

Alocasia macrorhiza (aka Persian Palm- not from Persia, by the way); and a true palm from Persia, Nannorrhops ritchiana

Another aroid, Armophophallus, has a few species that have the common name Snake Palm, presumably for the reptilian splotching along their perfectly tubular (and snake-like) stems? There is also a true Snake Palm, Salacca zalacca, a very different spiny suckering palm from Asia. Why it’s called the Snake Palm I have no idea.

Amorphophallus krociana (photo by skilledwithhands), aka Snake Palm (does this look like a palm to you?) and Salacca zalacca, the TRUE Snake Palm

Needle Palms are a US native species of palm and are probably the world’s most cold hardy palms species (Rhapidophyllum hystrix). This is a water-needy species. Some Trithrinax species are also called needle palms as well. These needle palms are called such because they have needle-like projections from their trunks that can be very sharp. But many species of Yucca are also called Needle Palms, but are in the Agave family and have needle-like leaves instead of trunk thorns. I had never heard of any Yuccas being referred to as palms (I guess most can tell these apart at least) and they should certainly not be treated like any.

Yucca’s filamentosa and rigida (aka Needle ‘Palms’)

Rhapidophyllum hystrix, THE Needle Palm

Trithrinax campestris and Trithrinax brasiliensis, also called Needle Palms

There is another Yucca species, Yucca filifera, a monster of a tree, that is also known as the Peter Palm (no idea why)… there is no true palm counterpart for this plant.

Yucca filifera, a humongous species- not very palm like to me!

The Hat Palm is a Sabal species which has leaves that have been used in the past (and still today?) as thatch and making hats. But Carludovica palmata is also referred to as a Hat Palm by some and it is NOT a palm (though treating this like a palm can’t hurt it). This is a grass-like plant that has leaves that actually look extremely palm-like. Most not very familiar with palms could easily mistake this for a true palm. And fortunately its needs are basically palm-like, so mixing this one up as a palm won’t hurt it any.

Carludovica palmata, aka Hat Palm or Hat Plant; the TRUE Hat Palm, Sabal causarium

Travelers Palm is a relative of the bananas and Strelitzias (Bird of Paradise) and NOT a palm. But Ravenala madagascariensis is grown a lot like one and is a fantastic looking tree (in the right climate), so most palm nuts with the right environment also grow these plants if they have the room.

Ravenala madagascariensis (aka Travelers Palm) is the plant most commonly misidentified as a palm

A curious and endangered succulent plant native to Hawaii, Brighamia insignis, is also called the Vulcan Palm. I have no idea why, but at least there are no TRUE Vulcan Palms out there.

Brighamia insignis, aka the Vulcan ‘Palm’

So if you are in the habit of using common names and like palms, be sure what you are getting is really a palm, and not just something called a palm. It could save you the hassle or replacing a plant or two.

Palm Trees

Blue Agave

  • Great heat tolerance and grows best in full sun
  • Life span of 8 – 14 years
  • Take 6 – 10 years to mature
  • Can reach over 7′
  • Will sprout a stalk when about 5 years old that can gow an additional 15′ topped with yellow flowers
  • Hardy until 25 degrees F
  • The more mature, the better the natural sugars
  • Beginner level

Mexican Blue Fan Palm

  • Very rare and slow growing palm
  • Very hardy palm even from 15 degrees F
  • Easy maintenance, loves full sun
  • Needs to be watered about 2 times per week
  • Reach about 30′ to 35′
  • Flowers hang down to even 15′
  • One of the most dramatic of palms because of its stunning leaves
  • Make excellent focal points in any landscape
  • Stunning at night when illuminated
  • Beginner level

Sago Palm (Cycas Revolute)

  • Slow growing with unusual trunk
  • Can grow for 100 years
  • Grow in full sun but adapt to outdoor shade or indoor area
  • One of the easiest plants to grow and care for
  • Can grow curious ways like multiple trunks or branches
  • Low light will produce long leaves
  • Bright light will produce short leaves
  • Will not change color when too dry so water thoroughly
  • Established Sagos can easily survive drought
  • If grown in container allow soil to be almost dry before watering
  • Beginner or expert

Bismarckia

  • Usually grown in soil rich in iron and aluminum
  • Can tolerate some drough but needs to be watered often
  • From Madagascar, flowering palm
  • Gray to tan in color
  • Natural habitat can grow to 85′ but in cultivation usually grow to 40′
  • Rounded leaves can grow 10′ wide in maturity
  • Mostly fire resistant
  • Have massive crowns
  • Need pleanty of room in landscape area
  • Beginner or expert

Mediterranean Palm (Chamaerops numilis)

  • Unique, rugged, cold hardy and drought resistant
  • Usually grown 15′ but ranges in color and shape
  • Hardier than most palms
  • Beautiful accent in patio or garden, use as screen or plant several side by side as a barrier
  • Grown in any container or planter
  • Grows slowly but even when small
  • Looks beautiful in any landscape
  • Have multiple trunks surrounding main trunk
  • Most will remove some trunks and trim to looklike “Mini Palms”
  • Beginner or expert

Mexian Fan Palm (Washingtonia Robusta)

  • “Sky scraper of palms” can grow to 100′ but more commonly seen at 40′ – 50′
  • Likes to be grown in full sun, partial sun or patial shade but prefers full sun for best growth
  • Will tolerate poor soil and drought
  • Fast growth rate
  • Does not attract wildlife
  • Fruit leaves are not a litter problem
  • Requires little pruning
  • Salt resistant
  • Root rot can occur if planted in too wet of an area
  • Beginner or expert

Golden Bisnaga Barrel Cactus

  • Desert dweller, can cope with intesnse heat and even some frost
  • Cultivation require full sun, little water, good drainage
  • Very popular house plants
  • Typically grown in area where water flows irregularly or in depressions where water can accumulate for short periods of time
  • Very shallow root system
  • Cannot take freezing temperatures for logn periods of time
  • Beginner or expert

Pindo (Jelly Palm) (Butia Capitata)

  • One of the hardiest feathered palms
  • Grown to 20′ tall, leaves 5 to 10′ long
  • Produces bright orange fruit
  • Prefer full san, partiall sun or partial shade
  • Soil tolerance includes clay, sand, acidic, well drained soil
  • When grown in dryer soail tend to be smaller
  • When grown in full sun tend to be more compact
  • Tough plant and survives in hot urban landscapes
  • Will thrive without food or fertilizer because of high drough tolerance
  • Roots and lower trunk can rot if soil is kept too moist
  • Beginner or expert

Phoenix Canariensis

  • Large solitary palm 40′ to 60′ tall
  • Slow growing, only 10′ in 15 years
  • Usually pruned to look like a pineapple
  • Small white flowers
  • Prefers full sun
  • Has 15′ to 20′ long, green, long-lived toothed leaves and brush-like stalks
  • Hardy until 20 degrees F then leaves will become damaged and is very slow to recover
  • Has a slight higher maintenance then other palms
  • Messy fruit droppings and fruit cleanup clean up required
  • Adults are drough resistent
  • Water young plants for healty look
  • Beginner or expert

Phoenix Roebelenii Pygmy Date Palm

  • Small to medium size
  • Slow growing
  • Prefers partial shade to full sun
  • Little pruning
  • Resistant to pests
  • Likes lots of water
  • Slender tree 6′ to 10′ tall
  • Morning sun for best growth
  • Flowers small yellowish
  • Can survive in 24 degree F weather for short period of time
  • Beginner or expert

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