Palm tree cold hardy

The Windmill palm, Trachycarpus fortunei, tree has been extrensively planted and grown during the last five years in most Northern States and in Canada, much to the incredulous surprise of environmentalists and climatologists. Tropical palm trees are not generally believed to have cold hardy characteristics sufficient to survive in non-tropical locations where temperatures often plunge to depths below zero. The windmill palm, Trachycarpus fortunei, can survive cold weather because of two characteristics: slow growth and a brown-black burlap-like hair that insulates the trunk from winter ravages.

The windmill palm tree, Trachycarpus fortunei, has been reported to grow 20 feet tall in the United States, but the windmill palm is not a native tree here and has only a short history of growing in the United States, after it was imported into Florida from Europe. Many windmill palm trees in Europe are growing as tall as 40 feet. In optimum conditions, the windmill palm tree can grow one foot per year, and the trunk is tall and slender—one foot maximum in diameter—and the base is smaller in diameter than the top, as is the case with many other palm tree species. The width of the windmill palm tree canopy is about 15 feet and the leaves are fan shaped and can grow 3 feet long.

The brown-black burlap-like hair that covers the trunk of the windmill palm is dense and so thick and interconnected that the merristematic growing point in the center of the windmill palm tree is insulated from the cold. After several years of aging, the brown-black hair covering the windmill palm trunk turns grey in color. In Europe, a tourist can find very old, tall windmill palm trees where the hair covering the trunk has eroded, exposing a grey, slick bark trunk with a regal appearance. The fan-shaped leaves are covered with a thick green waxy coat on the surface and the leaf margins are lined with sharp teeth.


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Cold Hardy Palm Trees Species / Types for Colder Climates

Most cold hardy Palm Tree species represent the tropics and it can be hard to believe that some cold hardy palm trees can withstand a deep winter freeze in subzero temperatures such as Needle Palm species. The Needle Palm tree type is cold hardy down to a temperature of -10’s degrees F.

A variety of cold hardy Palm species can be grown successfully in Texas (Dallas, Houston, Austin, San Antonio), California, Florida and much further north. The Palm Tree species which can withstand colder temperatures are considered more cold hardy thus we have cold hardy Palm Trees. Windmill palms and Mediterranean fan palms are known to receive snowfall in their native habitats to give you an idea on the Palm Trees cold hardiness.

Check out the new site about the Palm Tree at!

Cold Hardy Palm Tree – The Winter Hardy Palm Species Variety

Cold Hardy Palm Tree species vary in their ability to withstand different minimum temperatures based on the microclimate of the cold hardy Palm Tree. Here is the microclimate defined courtesy of the National Arbor Day Foundation.

“Some zip codes are in small areas that are warmer or cooler than the surrounding area. These areas, called microclimates, are often associated with urbanization or steep elevation changes, and many are too small to show on our map.

If it looks on the map like your zip code should be in a different hardiness zone than the one we provide for you, your zip code is probably in a microclimate that is too small to represent on the map.

A good example of this is Chicago, Illinois. Several zip codes for the city of Chicago bring up zones 5-6. Microclimates occur in most large cities due to the urbanization effect that buildings bring about.

In addition, regions of the country with bodies of water or mountains may contain “pockets.” These climatic pockets mirror warmer or cooler zones than the surrounding region.”

The microclimate can be broken down further to a planting location in your yard. For your cold hardy Palm Trees you can grow them in locations that provides shelter from the cold Northern winds, etc… There is more to the successful growth of a cold hardy palm tree than just the minimum average low temperature of a location (in parenthesis is the estimated minimum temperature that the palm tree species can withstand):

Cold Hardy Palm Trees species and cold tolerance threshold:

  • True Date Palm Trees(Phoenix dactylifera) – (Date Palms are cold hardy to 18 degrees)
  • Canary Island Date Palms(Phoenix canariensis) – (Canary Island Palms are cold hardy to 15 – 18 degrees)
  • Texas Sabal Palm Trees (Sabal texana, mexicana) – (Texas Sabal Palms are cold hardy to 16 – 18 degrees)
  • Mediterranean (European) Fan Palms (Chamaerops humilis) – (Mediterranean Fan Palms are cold hardy to 5 – 15 degrees)
  • California Fan Palms (Washingtonia filifera) – (California Fan Palms are cold hardy to 15 degrees)
  • Windmill Palm Trees (Trachycarpus fortunei) – (Windmill Palms are cold hardy to 5 degrees)
  • Pindo Palm Trees (Butia capitata) – (Pindo Palms are cold hardy to 12 – 15 degrees)
  • Sago Palm (Cycas revoluta) – (Sago Palms are cold hardy to 20 degrees)
  • Mexican Fan Palms (Washingtonia robusta) – (Mexican Fan Palms are cold hardy to 18 degrees)
  • Queen Palm Trees (Syagrus romanzoffiana) – (Queen Palms are cold hardy to 20 degrees)

The cold weather temperatures listed above are estimates, and preventative measures for cold protection can be taken enabling, with appropriate care, the cold hardy palm tree to grow in colder or borderline areas.

I have seen pictures of a cold hardy Windmill Palm surviving subzero temperatures (zone 6) with the proper winter protection. I personally know of a cold hardy Mexican Fan Palm surviving the cold temperatures in Michigan aided by the creativity of the owner. He has a 10 foot Palm tree which he wraps during the frigid storms and places Christmas Tree lights around the Palm to keep it warm. This particular species should not grow in Michigan but fellow Palm Tree enthusiasts continue to push the Northern borders of where the cold hardy Palm Trees species can grow.

Selecting the Right Palm for your Climate

To determine what different types of Palm Trees species will survive in your environment go to Palm Trees Cold Hardy Zones Maps Descriptions and Cold Hardy Zones Maps. – note: This information is based on a 1990 USDA report. There is a new Plant Hardiness report out from the National Arbor Day Foundation. This report is dated 2006. We will address it below. The following is a tool to find out what cold hardy zone you are in based on your zip code. A hardiness zone is a geographically-defined zone in which a specific category of plant life or Palm tree is capable of growing, as defined by temperature hardiness, or ability to withstand the minimum temperatures of the zone.

Cold Hardy Palm Tree (plant) Hardiness Zones Changes from 1990 to 2006 from the National Arbor Day Foundation

Interesting video showing the increase of US temperatures over the past 16 years which is moving the warmer Southern weather up North. Palm tree enthusiasts now have a better opportunity to grow more palm species in the Northern US. Florida, California and Texas are no longer the Palm Tree envy of the States.

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Top Cold Tolerant Desert Plants

Hardy agave plant covered in snow

Did you know that some desert plants can survive in cold climates?

Months ago, in my cold and rainy Michigan town, I was shocked to discover a neighbor had a cactus bed apparently thriving on the street side of their house.

Could this possibly be cactus, I wondered? It certainly looked like cactus: spiny lobes, low-growing. I couldn’t imagine how this desert plant would survive here, much less thrive and look very healthy. After all, in the not-so-distant past in this state, we’ve had winter temperatures of 10-30 degrees Fahrenheit below zero.

Cold Hardy Cacti – Succulents

It turns out that many cacti – actually succulents – are cold hardy. Moreover, cacti are a diverse bunch. Many varieties are used to temperatures down to zero and some much lower.

Keep in mind that some of these plants are native to mountainous regions in the Western hemisphere. The places they are from, while very dry, are usually not warm. Therefore, the cold is not so much of a problem for an outdoor cactus as is the moisture.

As you will see, planting cacti in your garden can give you a beautiful maintenance-free spread with fascinating shapes and flowers (yes, flowers!).

Many cold-hardy species are native to Mexico and North – Arizona, New Mexico, and West Texas with several of the varieties found in the western Great Plains from Oklahoma into Montana and the Dakotas.

Additionally, there is even one that’s made its way up into the southern edge of Canada! They are found in the mountains and high plateaus of these states. The mountains of Southern Argentina and Patagonia also host mountain, cold-hardy cacti.

Because there are 100 or more genera of cacti, I want to give you the names of the cold-hardy species so you don’t try to buy potted cacti in the grocery store and try to plant it in your garden.

Great Plains Natives: Escobaria, Opuntia

  • Escobaria vivipara, zones 4-9 is very wide-ranging. It’s a good choice for starting out if you have no experience gardening with cacti. It’s long-blooming, a good adaptor, and clusters for a nice effect.
    • #1 Escobaria vivipara v. rosea – which is native to the mountains of Nevada has a huge purple flower.
    • #2 Escobaria vivipara v. bisbeeana has a small stem, white spines, and pale pink flowers – it’s from southeastern Arizona.
  • #3 Escobaria missouriensis, zones 4-9, has clusters of greenish-yellow flowers and adapts to gardens quite well, mixing with non-succulent prairie plants and wildflowers.

Mountain Natives: Echinocereus, Pediocactus (which can withstand winter temps of -30 degrees F or lower)

  • Echinocereus (hedgehog cactus)
    • #1 Echinocereus triglochidiatus – can do well in zones 5-10 and has a vast array of subspecies. It can vary quite a lot by geography. Some of the subspecies put forth large clumps with spiny stems and some are small and nearly spineless. This is an orange flowered species. The “White Sands” variety for zones 5-9 has red flowers.
    • #2 Echinocereus viridiflorus – Zones 4-9. The green flowered hedgehog. They have yellow to green flowers. In some geographical regions, the spines can be colorful bright red and white. Another great thing is they can tolerate higher rainfall and are easy to grow.
    • #3 Echinocereus reichenbachii – These are very showy cacti for zones 5-10 with comb-like spines and are very gardener-friendly. They can be pure white to pinkish brown and grow bunches of magenta flowers. It’s a faster-growing cactus and blooms at an early age, which can be nice as cacti are very slow-growing generally. If it likes its surroundings, it will seed easily.
    • #4 Echinocereusfendleri – Another variety with huge magenta flowers and heat tolerant.
    • #5 Echinocereus weedenii x russanthus – hybrid
    • #6 Echinocereus canus x russanthus – hybrid

Cold Hardy Agave

In addition, another desert plant that is surprisingly used to harsh conditions and cold climates is the agave. Interestingly, this plant is native to the United States, and it’s the plant from which tequila is made. Additionally, agaves range in size from the side of your palm to huge “bush” like plants with bold shapes.

Native to the high plateaus of Flagstaff, Arizona, the “Parry’s Century Plant,” and related “Camp Verde” are the largest and most cold hardy agaves known to man. “Harvard’s Century Plant” is another of the largest agaves you could grow. Make sure to give it a lot of room, as its wide and spiky leaves stand straight out at an angle, and grow very large.

Smaller agave species are great for outdoor container gardening, as they need well-drained soil:

  • Agave Toumeyana v. bella
  • Dwarf agave:
    • #1 Agave utahensis have thin strappy leaves
    • #2 Agave utahensis v. eborispina have very spiny leaves
    • #3 Agave utahensis v. kaibabensis a larger and prettier version of the agave utahensis plant.

Desert Plant Care

If you are attempting to grow any desert native plant in a colder, wetter climate, the first thing you need to know is that they thrive in dry conditions with full sun for as much as possible of the day. In addition, most of the time, they will need to be planted in raised beds. If you have sandy soil already – mix native soil with rough sand.

It is best to try to mimic the rocky terrain that cacti and agave like best by adding in some large rocks. Cacti thrive on the alkaline soils found in the desert. Under those circumstances, you may need to add a trace mineral fertilizer and phosphate at recommended rates for the native soil and sand mixture. However, agave plants generally don’t need to be fed. However, they can benefit from a light, slow-releasing fertilizer at the beginning of growing season.

Other concerns for desert plants are to remember that they are slow-growing. As a result, make sure they aren’t planted with other plants that may overtake them while they are growing at their own pace. Some species do very well with non-succulent plants that are native to the same regions. For example, wild grasses and flowers or European plants that thrive in the same type of climate.


Now you know that cold tolerant desert plants like cacti and agave can be grown in the cold, take a look at some of the beautiful forms and colors available from these hardy plants. You might find that adding a few of these beauties outside transforms your garden into the modern and fascinating space you’ve been wanting.

Finally, to ensure your plants are receiving the proper nutrients and water to the root zone, consider installing Root Starter Sticks.

Zone 4 Cactus Plants: Types Of Cold Hardy Cactus Plants

Cactus plants are commonly considered desert denizens. They are in the succulent group of plants and are actually found in more regions than just hot, sandy deserts. These amazingly adaptive plants grow wild as far north as British Columbia and are found natively in most of the states of the U.S., including zone 4. Many of the species in the group are quite cold hardy and will survive in temperatures well below freezing. Growing cactus in cold climates is possible if you choose one of these cold resilient varieties and if you provide some protection and shelter for semi-hardy specimens.

Growing Cactus in Cold Climates

It is almost an addiction once you have been bitten by the cactus bug. That being said, most of us collectors are stuck growing plants indoors as cold northern temperatures can kill our prized specimens. Interestingly, there are zone 4 cactus plants that can survive the temperatures in winter, which can exceed -30 degrees Fahrenheit (-34 C.) in some areas. The key is to choose cactus for zone 4 that are winter hardy and provide them with a microclimate that can shelter them somewhat.

Deserts are generally hot, sandy and dry. This is where we usually think of cactus growing. But even in such areas, the nighttime temperatures can cool down significantly, even reaching negative digits in the colder parts of the year. Many wild cactus must be adapted to the hot, dry summer days as well as the cold, often freezing winter nights. But there are things you can do to help too.

  • In-ground plants benefit from well-draining soil to prevent root damage when freezes do happen and root rot when soil becomes boggy.
  • It may also help to install specimens in containers and move them when temperatures get to a threatening level.
  • Additionally, you may also need to cover plants during periods of extreme cold to help keep the air around them slightly warmer and prevent ice or snow from damaging the stems, pads and trunks.

Cold Hardy Cactus Plants

While most of the cold hardy cactus are quite small, their unique forms can create a fun desert garden space even in the northern most climates provided they get adequate sun exposure and good gritty soil.

The Echinocereus group is one of the most hardy cactus plants. These types of cold hardy cactus plants can withstand temperatures of -20 degrees Fahrenheit (-28 C.) and even colder if they are in a sheltered, southern area of the garden. Most of these are small mounded cacti, with numerous spines of various sizes and beautiful, almost tropical blooms. Claret cup cactus is one in particular.

Similar to Echinocereus are the Mammillaria group of cactus. These ball-like cactus produce offsets and in mature forms can develop into rolling mounds of tiny cactus. Mammillaria also produce beautiful, vibrant flowers in spring to summer.

Most of the plants in either genus rarely achieve more than 6 inches in height. They are perfect for small rock gardens or at the edges of paths. Just be cautious where you put them due to the numerous tiny spines.

Escobaria is another group of cold tolerant cactus. Lee’s dwarf snowball looks just like its name indicates. It produces little puffed mounds with fine white hairs and over time develops into clusters. In addition to these, there are beehive cactus and plain’s pincushion. All are extremely tiny, rarely getting more than a few inches tall but develop large, colorful flowers.

Mountain spiny star is in the family Pediocactus and has terrific cold hardiness. These are ball cactus that rarely form colonies but may grow 12 inches high and 6 inches wide. They naturally occur in the mountains of the western United States.

Compact, cute little cactus are useful for smaller spaces, but if you really want desert impact, the larger, pad forming cacti are your choice. The Opuntia family of cactus can grow 12 inches high with pads of up to 5 inches long. They can become spreading plants of 4 feet wide with fleshy pads decorated with tiny spines in clusters. Many produce edible fruits, called tunas, and the pads are also edible once spines and skins are removed.

Prickly pear is one of the better known forms of Opuntia and form mats of pads several feet wide. It is a fast growing cactus that is both drought tolerant and hardy in zone 4. Well-draining soil is crucial to these types of cold hardy cactus plants. Avoid using organic mulches to protect the root zone as these can hold moisture. Cactus plants naturally reduce their water intake in cold weather and cells in pads dehydrate to avoid freezing and bursting in cold temperatures. Use stone chips or gravel as a mulch.

About Cold Hardy Palm Trees

A cold hardy palm tree is determined by many factors, three of which are discussed in this article: The way the palm tree acclimates or responds to the cold weather. The mid-winter hardiness of the palm tree. And lastly, the way the palm tree de-acclimates when the weather starts to warm up. The acclimation process is activated as the temperature starts to decrease. These environmental changes trigger physiological and biochemical changes in the palm tree that result in greater cold tolerance. After the acclimation process the palm tree will be in a stage of mid-winter hardiness, where it has reached its maximum hardiness level with out injury. Lastly the De-acclimation process is exactly the opposite of the acclimating process. It refers to the response to warming temperatures in late winter and early spring.

The solution to the success of a cold hardy palm tree or tropical palm trees relies on many factors, some of which are: the overall health of the palm tree, the maturity, when it was transplanted, how long has it been stationary, the environment in which it has been grown in, and the species of palm.

Overall Health

The overall health of palm trees plays an important role on how well the palm tree will survive. A much healthier palm is proven to survive with minimal damages to the fronds and trunk. Making sure the palm tree has adequate nutrients in the soil is key for the well being of the palm. Studies show that adding fertilizer and other nutrients during winter will have no affect on the survival of the palm tree. When the palm tree starts the acclimation phase, it will start to enter a phase of hibernation. Biochemical changes occur, photosynthesis process decreases, therefore, less sunlight is needed and less nutrients is required. The palm tree stops absorbing nutrients and stores the nutrients it previously absorbed in late summer, early fall. Thus, making it very important to keep a healthy palm tree, all year round. However, there are preventative measures that may ensure the survival of your cold hardy or tropical palm; please refer to our winter protection article.

One solution is to fertilize your palm tree in mid-summer. This will to help the palm tree during the de-acclimation phase as well as during winter months. This will give the palm tree ample time to gather the nutrients provided and boost their health as winter arrives and will also provide the nutrients it will need to start its growth when spring comes.

The Maturity of The Palm Tree

The maturity of the palm tree is also another key factor in determining the survival of the palm. When an immature palm tree is introduced to cold weather the chances of survival with out damage is much less of that of a mature palm tree. A mature palm will have extra leaves to give off heat to protect the inner bud or the new arising spear. This spear is more or less the life line of any palm tree.

A mature palm will also have more of an extensive root system which will allow the palm tree to recover faster by absorbing the water and other nutrients needed when damaged. As for an immature root system, the roots may freeze or may not tolerate cold weather and start to rot or decay.

The maturity of the trunk can also help with the protection of the palm tree. Some cold hardy palms have developed a husk to protect the trunk from frost or other unseen events given them an advantage when the natural elements come forth. The husk acts as an outer layer of protection, some examples of palm trees that have a outer fiber husk are the European Fan Palm Tree (Chamaerops humilis), Windmill Palm Tree(Trachycarpus fortunei), Miniature Chusan Palm Tree (Trachycarpus wagnerianus), Stone Gate Palm Tree (Trachycarpus princeps), and other related species of the Trachycarpus family. Some examples of cold hardy palms with out the fiber husk are the Bismarck Palm (Bismarckia nobilis), Cabbage Palm (Sabal palmetto), Blue Hesper Palm Tree (Brahea armata), Needle Palm Tree (Rhapidophyllum hystrix) and the Pindo Palm Tree (Butia Capitata). Many of these palm trees can with stand freezing temperatures for days or even weeks with out any damage.

One solution to assist in the survival of a palm tree during the duration of cold months, is to only plant mature palm trees outside and keep the little ones indoors and inside containers. Once, the weather starts to warm up in spring and the palm tree is mature, than transplant outside. You can refer to our transplanting article.

When The Palm Tree Was Planted?

When the palm tree was planted is important, because this will indicate how long the palm had to establish its root system. If the palm tree was planted close to winter, this might lower the chances of survival because sufficient time was not given for the palm tree to pass the transplant shock and to establish its roots. All palm trees go through a transplant shock, some for a few days and some for a month or two. Deciding to plant around winter could prove to be a challenge.

One solution to planting a palm tree, is to plant it during spring or when the weather is warming up. For other tips and preventative measure please refer to our winter protection article..

How Long The Palm Tree Has Been Stationary?

How long the palm tree has been stationary plays an important role in the palm trees survival. The time the palm tree is planted in a specific area without being disturbed is critical, not only to cold hardy palms, but to plants in general. Cold hardy palms, as well as tropical palms, also have a high tendency to die slowly, because they were transplanted to many times. Palm trees in general, do well when they are transplanted once; from a container to the ground. When a palm tree has been stationary for a long period of time, their root system will be more extensive. This will help during times of drought, cold, or lack of nutrition in the surrounding soil. By having more time to settle, the palm tree can be ready for winter season.

One solution is, once the palm tree is safely transplanted in the ground, the palm tree must not be disturbed for at least 2 to 3 years. During these years the location of the palm tree should not be relocated for any reason. This is the rule of thumb for most palm species, including cold hardy palms.

The Environment The Palm Tree Has Been Grown in

The environment the palm tree has been grown in, is some times overlooked by many people. Many commercial growers will have hundreds if not thousands of palm trees growing all different species at one time. Most in green houses and some outside in fields. Most of which are in the south, where weather will hardly ever reach below freezing. A palm tree that has never experienced weather of its natural habitat will be affected by the cold more so than a palm tree that has been winterized or has been growing in their natural habitat. Winterizing is another word for acclimating palm trees.

Some nurseries will acclimate the palm tree before selling them to northern customers to ensure their survival when the harsh winters arrive. Some nurseries will refer to this as either, winterizing a palm or acclimating a palm. The reason for choosing palm trees which have been acclimated to the weather is because the palm trees will better resist cold temperatures. Many palm trees even cold hardy palm trees when introduced to the cold weather will go into a state of shock because it is not adapted. This process may also be done first hand. It is not necessary to do this, but the reward is much greater. This is especially true if it is during the coldest part of the year. Do not test the limitations of the palm tree, acclimate it slowly into the cold or full sun.

The altitude of the environment the palm tree is grown is just one more environmental factor which influences cold hardy palm trees. For instance, queen palm trees are found growing naturally troughout Florida which is completely flat and of low altittude levels. But, they are also found growing naturally throughout South America, which consist of many altitude variances with many lusciuos and colorful landscapes; unforgiving mountains, monster rivers, wet swamps, and many more of mother nature’s lab expirements. Some, queen palms which grow in these regions are considered to be coldy hardy, and winterized by mother nature with her harsh climates consisting of gail winds, fat hail, merciless snow, and many more natural occurences.

The safe and stable solution to winterizing a palm tree, is to winterize only palm trees which have already stood the test of time with mother nature, i.e. cold hardy palms. You don’t want to winterize a Fiji Fan Palm, because it would take many decades, if not centuries to shape the biological structure. It’s also, important to note that hybrids made of cold hardy and tropical flavors, have successfully endured cold months and have been winterized, but the results all vary with each species. So, mixing species is not a stable solution, but nevertheless it is stilled considered a solution.

The Species of Palm Tree

The species of palm is the most important in determining the cold hardiness of a palm tree. Over the years many palm tree botanist and palm tree enthusiasts have studied the hardiness of many plants and palms. The hardiness of palm trees is due to hundreds, thousands even millions of years of the same natural reoccurring weather. This is called their natural habitat. The natural habitat of a palm tree will usually indicate the lowest temperature the palm tree can withstand. Every species of palm has a country of origin or a location where they grow naturally with out human intervention. Those thousands and millions of years have let certain species adapt to their environment. Some examples are a European Fan Palm (Chamaerops humilis) from the cold chilly Mediterranean, Windmill Palm (Trachycarpus fortunei) from the foot hills of the Himalayas, and the Blue Hesper Palm (Brahea armata) from the desert canyons of northwestern Mexico. These species of palm tree will inevitably be more cold tolerant than those of such places as Fiji, Philippines, or the Amazon.

To compare locality of a palm tree to its cold hardiness, is as follows A European Fan Palm (Chamaerops humilis) native to the Mediterranean is more of cold hardy palm then to a Canary Island Date Palm (Phoenix canariensis) from the Canary Islands. As a Needle Palm (Rhapidophyllum Hystrix) from Central United States is more cold hardy then to a European Fan Palm. Studies have indicated leaf damage to the European Fan Palm at temperatures below that of 13 degrees F, on the other hand, the Needle Palm have shown little to no damage at temperatures of 5 degrees F and below.

This is why it is most important when choosing a palm tree, to not only look at the zone temperature it may be tolerant, but also the minimum temperature it can tolerate and also it’s natural habitat.


A cold hardy palm tree is determined by many factors, three of which factors are: The way the palm tree acclimates or responds to the cold weather. The mid-winter hardiness of the palm tree and the way the palm tree de-acclimates when the weather starts to warm up. Which is also contingent on the following: the over all health of the palm tree, the maturity, when it was transplanted, how long has it been stationary, the environment in which it has been grown in and most importantly the species of palm tree.

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