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Palm revival

The 70s in Australia are remembered by many for groovy discos, bad kitchen vinyl and poor fashion.

For others it was the beginning of ‘tropical’ gardens with palms, palms and more palms.

Back then the selection was limited… a queen palm (Syagrus romanzoffiana - now regarded as a weed), a golden cane (Dypsis lutescens), a bangalow (Archontophoenix cunninghamii) or an Alexandra palm (Archontophoenix alexandrae).

Thirty years later, many gardeners now have difficulty growing other plants beneath and near the mature palms. Consequently many people have a love-hate relationship with palms.

However there are now far superior species of palms available to us to grow in the subtropics and tropics that any anti-palm gardener would be hard pressed to dismiss. There is also a wider selction of palms suited to warm temperate climates.

Palms are adapted to almost every conceivable garden situation. There are some that will handle wet soils, others tolerate dry dusty ‘dirt’, some for full sun and others for shade. Many palms are suited to full wind exposure while others prefer the protection. Few plants if any are as adaptable as the diverse palms.

Perhaps your garden needs colour. Rather than the golden cane improved alternatives are blue cane (Dypsis cabadae), redneck (Dypsis leptocheilos) or orange/red beetel nut (Areca vestiaria).

Foliage frond colours are also important so look out for the red flushed new fronds of flame thrower (Chambeyronia macrocarpa) or the silver blue tones of the silver bismarck (Bismarckia nobilis).

Often overlooked but should not be forgotten are the flowers and the resulting red coloured fruits. Attractive in their own right, they also function to feed fauna in the district.

When thinking of screening, the range of clumping palms can provide the perfect tropical touch without taking up space, unlike many trees. Consider Macarthur palms (Ptychosperma macarthurii), clumping beetel nut (Areca triandra) and blue cane (Dypsis cabadae). For shorter screening affects, consider lady palm (Rhapis excelsa and R. humilis) and cascade (Chamaedora atrovirens).

Rather than the single stemmed traditional bangalow and alexandra palms, great alternatives such as solitaire (Ptychosperma elegans), Fiji feather (Veitchia joannis), foxtail (Wodyetia bifurcata), Carpentaria (Carpentaria acuminata), black palm (Normanbya normanbyi) and mountain coconut (Clinostigma harlandii). The list goes on.

If you are after a water wise garden, a great palm would be the silver bismark. Underplanted with highly water efficient bromeliads and succulents you can create a tropical looking garden with minimal water need.

Alternatively if you seek the lushness of rainforests then the world of palms is at your disposal. From tall to short, deep green to vibrant red, single stemmed or clumping, the choice is virtually endless. 

It is difficult not to appreciate a group of plants as diverse and adaptable as palms.

Palms suited to pots:
* parlour (Chamaedorea elegans)
* bamboo (Chamaedorea seifrizii)
* lady (Rhapis excelsa and R. humilis)
* ruffled fan (Licuala ramsayi and L. elegans)
* window pane (Reinhardtia gracilis)
* wedding (Lytocaryum weddellianum / Microcoelum weddellianum)

For suppliers of specialty palms, refer to the Home Registry on PLANT ID





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