By Pat Malcolm
The Cold Hardy Windmill Fan Palm tree originated on the island of Chusan off the east coast of China, and the Windmill palm tree is often called the Chinese or Chusan Fan Palm. Robert Fortune smuggled Windmill palm plants from China into the Kew Horticultural Gardens and into the Royal garden of Prince Albert of England in 1849 after the Opium Wars of China ended. The Windmill Palm tree was named in Latin, Trachycarpus fortunei, after Robert Fortune, and after 158 years, in the year 2007, these Windmill Fan Palm trees are still growing gracefully as a distinguished, exotic, rare tree at Kew Gardens, a palm of noble bearing.
From Kew Gardens in England, the Windmill Palm tree was spread throughout Europe, from the Mediterranean hot climates of Italy and Greece to a cold hardy testing ground in the landscape gardens of Switzerland and Bulgaria, where the Windmill Palm trees have remarkably survived, leaves even remaining green when covered with ice or snow. During the past seven years, truckloads of Windmill Fan Palm trees have been transported and planted in Canada and have survived the extreme cold winters in New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, New Jersey, and Michigan.
Although most Windmill Palm nursery growers are conservative in recommending the Windmill Palm tree planting to be restricted to growing in zones 8-10; other Windmill Palm Nursery growers recommend and guarantee this rare palm tree to grow in zones 3-10. There has been a rush by Northern nursery retailers to plant Windmill Palm trees for the home gardener, who wants that tropical look and accent around his pool or patio. The Windmill Palm tree is planted at plant nurseries from seed, where they grow about one foot each year. The slow growth of the Windmill Palm is partially responsible for its cold hardiness. Another characteristic that is inherently cold hardy is that the fibers that cover the trunk insulate the growing center of the tree. The brown-gray color of the burlap-like fibers cover the trunk like a wool covering in winter, and the dark color attracts the warmth of the sunlight. A coarse green wax covers the leaves and stems to make the Windmill Palm tree even more cold hardy.
The Windmill Palm tree is most often grown as a solitary, single trunk plant, however, some Windmill Palm nursery growers offer double or triple trees growing in the same container as large as 100 gallons. These huge 10 foot tall Windmill Palm trees are choice, tropical looking specimens for malls and at entrances to governmental buildings. The Windmill Palm tree can be easily shipped by UPS on short orders, and large Windmill Palm trees can be shipped by semi-truck, motor freight lines. Shipping Windmill Palm trees can be easily done any season, and the survival rate is excellent for large specimens. Very large specimens of Windmill Palm trees have been recently installed at the entrance of the new Cloister Resort Hotela 5-star hotellocated at Sea Island, Georgia, where the Windmill Palm tree is not only tropical in appearance and cold hardy, but completely resistant to the Atlantic Ocean salt water air problems. The Cloister hotel has grown smaller Windmill Palm trees at various out buildings for past years successfully. The expense of installing large Windmill Palm trees can be offset by planting small specimens that can be expected to grow about one foot each year. Because of the recent success of planting large specimen trees of the tropical looking Windmill Palm tree in Canada and Northern U.S. States, many gardeners are now experimenting with planting small Windmill Palm trees in the North, before the plant has developed a sufficient dense fiber covering to make the tree cold hardy enough to survive the deep freezes in the Northern States.
Typically the Windmill Palm tree has a history of surviving over 150 years of age in the Western World at a height of 40 feet, but accurate reports of Windmill Palm trees, native to the Island of Chusan in Eastern China, do not exist in translated texts, but conceivably could reach 100 feet in height. The rapid growth of Western influence on the development of China will undoubtedly reveal many more interesting botanical, developmental facts concerning the Windmill Palm tree in the near future.
The Windmill Palm tree appears to have all the perfection of tropical landscape gardening requirements for growing throughout the United States and cold hardy areas of Canada and Europe. Most types of soils are acceptable for growing Windmill Palms. Very few insect and disease problems exist to endanger growing Windmill Fan Palm trees. Even through slow growing, the Windmill Palm captivates the tropically minded gardener for pool and courtyard plantings. The Windmill Palm tree grows as separate male and female plants, and the date that is produced is inedible, resulting from the yellow, pleasantly, perfumed flowers that grow into blue seed, round and one-half inch in diameter.
About the Author: Patrick A. Malcolm, owner of
, has an M.S. degree in Biochemistry and has cultivated plants for over three decades.