Originating from Northern Myanmar to Central China
A true palm that we can grow outside with no protection in the UK.
Hardy and easy to grow, suited to most soil types.
Evergreen and architectural, adaptable to many styles of garden.
Happy in sun or shade.
Palms are iconic for exotic holidays and luxury, abundance and exuberance. By planting the Chusan Palm you can add any of these flavours to your own garden and enjoy the escapism of sitting in a palm-filled landscape without having to get on a flight.
Trachycarpus fortunei was introduced to the UK in the 19th Century by the renowned plant collector Robert Fortune, who the species is named after. He collected seed from the small Chinese island of Chusan – hence the plant’s common name. Palms were fashionable amongst Victorian gardeners and there are many ancient specimens of the ‘Trachys’ as they are affectionately known, in the UK today, planted by them.
This is an amazingly tough and versatile plant; it will thrive in most soil conditions, including heavy wet clay. It is happy in woodland shade or in full sun and its only enemy is strong wind, although this is a human problem! We prefer to see our palms’ big and beautiful fan-shaped leaves in pristine condition, and gusty conditions tend to damage them, but maybe the palms themselves aren’t too bothered as a broken leaf is still generating energy for the plant by photosynthesis. Trachys have been known to survive temperatures of -18c, waterlogged soil so long as not permanent, and are known to grow out of precipitous limestone cliffs and in snowy high altitudes in their natural habitat.
Its versatility in horticulture is amazing as it can be grown naturally in its wild and shaggy state – its trunk is covered in hanging dead leaves forming a ‘skirt’ (see our gallery photo), or if these are removed the trunk is revealed to be covered in hessian like brown fibres and stout leaf bases. Grown in either of these ways the palm has a charm of its own that looks great in woodland or jungle-style planting schemes. However in a contemporary garden, a Mediterranean courtyard or close to a sitting area or path, the leaf bases and fibres can be stripped from the trunk (this doesn’t hurt the plant or affect its hardiness), and a totally different style of palm can be created. The smooth trunk is a dark reddish-brown colour and has the typical ringed look of a tropical palm. It is much smoother than the non-stripped trunk, making sitting, walking or running past it safer.
A further, often overlooked, quality that palms bring to the garden is their cycle of flower, fruit and seed production. Large yellow branching flowering structures, known as inflorescences, are produced high up in the crown in spring and can be up to 40cm long. They are covered in protective sheaths and look almost like weird bananas at first before the branches widen out to reveal the hundreds of small individual flowers they bear. Palms are dioecious, meaning that sexes are borne on different plants – so if you have a male, clouds of pollen will be given off from the flowers before they darken and die off. If you have a female, dull purple fruits will form on the branches late into summer and winter. The branches of the inflorescence darken to a rich amber/orange colour, contrasting nicely with the fruits, which in turn darken to black and harden off. This amazing display can last all year with one season’s seed-bearing branches hanging vertically down the trunk while the new season’s flowers are developing. The seeds readily germinate and you may have plenty of baby Trachys to give away if you (or a neighbour) have both male and female plants.
Height and spread after 4 – 5 years 1.5m x 1m
Semi mature height and spread after 8 – 10 years 3.5m x 2.5m
Potential height and spread after 25 – 30 years 7m x 2.5m