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Dallas Morning News - October 12, 2017

Needle Palm – One of the Toughest Plants of All

Many of the questions about palm trees relate to cold tolerance and freeze protection. Well, here ‘s a good tip for you. The needle palm (Rhapidophyllum hystrix) has no problems in those categories. It is a near perfect, low maintenance, evergreen plant that makes an excellent specimen or can be used in mass plantings for screens and backdrops.

Needle palm is a beautiful, rugged and extremely cold hardy palm. Not being very fast growing is actually a benefit maintenance wise in the long term. It is a bushy fan palm growing to about 6 -8 ft in height. It produces multiple stems creating a rounded clump. The tightly packed stems form a dense thicket. It does not form a trunk but instead has a slowly lengthening crown that grows to about 4 ft long and about 7 in in diameter. The stems are composed of old leaf bases, fiber and long slender spines. They are usually erect but in older clumps they may grow along the ground as they compete for light and space. The "needles" are dark brown to black, very slender and sharp and grow from 4-10 in long. They are quite effective at protecting the base of the plant.

In the shade garden needle palm can provide a rich green backdrop for flowering plants and it blends beautifully with perennials and flowering shrubs. Mass plantings of needle palm can also serve as barriers and security hedges. The thick growth and sharp needles will deter most creatures and people. Established plants are drought tolerant and are perfect for the shady xeriscape garden. But, needle palm is also adaptable to wet soils and can even survive flooding and standing water. It can be used near ponds, streams, swampy areas and even around swimming pools. Its clean habit and ability to take splashes of chlorinated water make it a good choice if not planted too close to walkways. It grows well in containers also and is durable enough to grow indoors.

Probably the most cold hardy of all palms, gardeners should give this terrific plant a try. Just to give you an idea how tough this plant is, it survived the dramatically long and harsh freezing we had here in north Texas during the ’83-’84 winter. That winter was so brutal it killed many hollies and even some live oaks. The needle palms didn’t blink an eye.

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