Queen Palm Care, Culture, Appearance, Growth, Usage in Landscape, Fertilizer, Watering, Cold tolerance and Hybrids.
A common California Palm Tree.
The Queen Palm is one of the most common palms seen in Southern
California. There are literally hundreds of thousands of them planted
throughout communities. It is also a common palm seen in Northern
California, the Gulf States and throughout the world. The only other palm
that is seen this commonly is the Mexican Fan Palm, Washingtonia robusta.
The Queen Palm Tree is a fast growing palm that will get fairly tall. It is
easy to find and purchase. It's popularity has to do with it's ready
availability, its fast rate of growth, and its durability. It's botanical
name is Syagrus romanzoffiana, see pictures below.
THE GENUS SYAGRUS
The Queen Palm is a type of
Syagrus. Syagrus is a genus of over 40 species and is
expanding as new species are identified. All species are from South
America and the Caribbean. There are single trunk species as well as
suckering species. Some get quite tall while others form no trunk and are
dwarfs. No species have the popular crown shaft seen in other genera.
Leaf appearance is variable with some being very plumose (fluffy) while others
are more flat. Trunk caliper is variable with some being quite thick and
stout. Syagrus are monoecious, meaning that only one tree has
the capability of making fertile seeds. Enthusiasts like this genus because
many can be successfully grown in domestic gardens and most are good growers.
Distantly related to the Coconut Palm, Syagrus often have large seeds
and the flowers are apparent below the crown of leaves. Some of the fruit
and seeds of this genus are edible. It is not uncommon to see squirrels
eating the fruit of a large Queen Palm.
Pictured below are
Syagrus cearensis (left) and Syagrus comosa (right)
Most Syagrus are
single trunk. Below is a picture of Syagrus vagans, a suckering
and not too attractive species.
THE QUEEN PALM, SYAGRUS ROMANZOFFIANA
NATIVE HABITAT and HISTORY
The Queen Palm is native to southern Brazil (as are many
northern Argentina, Paraguay and Uraguay. There it tends to grow in lowland
areas or on small mountain ranges. This species was known for many years as
Cocos plumosa and sometimes you'll still see it called this in nurseries.
This incorrect name began being used, but few knew it had been previously
described in 1823 by Adelbert von Chamisso, who named is Cocos
romanzoffianum. In 1916 Becarri broke up the genus of
ito seven groups. With this, and at that point, this species was known as "Arecastrum
romanofzianna". Later the species was grouped with
and to this date its name has been Syagrus romanofzianna. This
points out how, over times, it is not uncommon to see names of a given species
change over and over again.
CHARACTERISTICS OF THE QUEEN PALM
is a single trunk palm that
can easily get to a height of 50 feet. I have personally seen specimens
reach a height of greater than 60 feet when grown under optimal conditions with
plenty of water and fertilizer. Trunk diameters can get to almost two
feet. The leaves get a length of up to 12 feet and are plumose, or
multi-ranked. In other words, they are quite "fluffy" in appearance.
Each leaf can be quite heavy and the petiole bases are fibrous and thick.
An average tree can carry as many as 15 leaves or more. Leaf color is dark
green unless the plant is nutritionally challenged or in too hot and dry of a
climate. The crown is full and rounded. As these leaves age (lower
part of the crown), they turn brown and tend to hang down toward the ground and
adjacent to the trunk. These have to be manually removed or the tree can
look unsightly. They are not a "self-cleaning" species.
Examples of very tall Queen
Palms. On the left below, specimens go up to about the eighth floor, on the
right they line a street, twice the height of telephone poles.
The trunks, as mentioned, tend to be thick and fairly smooth. It is not
unusual too see their faint growth rings separated by more than 12 inches on a
vigorous specimen (see below). Flowers and seeds are born below the crown of leaves.
The fruits are an intense yellow when mature and fall to the ground when ready
for germination. One
can see a mature Queen with what seems to be literally thousands of fruits near the
base of the tree. The outer bract of the flower is quite woody when mature
and has a very sharp point on the end. This could prove to be dangerous if
unleashed in a windstorm and striking a person.
Trunks of the Queen Palm Tree show amazing growth.
On the left, below, note the distance between
each ring. This means with each leaf nearly a foot of trunk height resulted
(left). On the right is a picture of green fruit on the right and near
mature fruit on the left,
ripening to the
Another view of the Queen Palm in fruit from afar.
GROWTH AND CULTURE OF THE QUEEN PALM:
Queen Palm Care
Queen Palms, even from the seedling stage, are very fast growers. Seeds
will germinate in several months and are easy to grow. Young seedlings
prefer filtered light but soon tolerate full sun in most areas. It is not
unusual to be able to get a 6 foot 15g tree in two to three years from the
seedling stage. This is
one of the reasons that this species is so affordable. In most areas, one
should plant this palm in full sun. In extremely hot inland or desert
areas, filtered light might be needed. In general, it is not considered a
drought tolerant palm but can take periods of low water. Queen palms grow faster when given more water and
fertilizer. But, it is surprising that neglected specimens can
look attractive. If given plenty of water and fertilizer, this
species can be strikingly beautiful. In my locality, a planted 15g tree
can reach heights of ten to twenty feet in a period of just a few years.
It can develop several feet of trunk per year.
An ideal soil for queen palms would be good draining and have some organic
material applied. But, as a species, Queen Palms seem to tolerate a fair
amount of neglect and suboptimal soil. In Southern California one can see
this species in dense clay soil and well as sandy loam. With a lack of
water and fertilizer, the most common malady seen is yellow leaves (see photo
growth and thinner trunks. Queen palms, because of their fast growth rate,
do need fertilizer to look their best. A slow release fertilizer with
microelements should be applied at least 3 times per year. Watering
frequency would opitmally be 3x per week in most areas during the warmer
seasons. Roots can be
a bit invasive if planted right next to a structure, but in general plants usually do not hurt house foundations.
Sometimes one will see a large Queen Palm where the base of the trunk is rather
thin. Then, as you look upward, the trunk seems to bulge toward the
middle. This is usually the result of a new property owner giving a neglected
tree plenty of water and nutrition such that more vigorous growth occurs. Watch for it and you'll notice is
around town yourself.
Note that the Queen Palm below has yellow leaves and is
COLD TOLERANCE OF THE QUEEN PALM
Some palm refernce books will cite that this species tolerates
temperatures down to 25 degrees F. However, most enthusiasts have found
that the Queen Palm will survive temperatures into the upper teens F. I
would estimate that temperatures of below 17 degrees will burn the palm and much
below this will kill it. This means that it is adaptable to many garden
zones and will tolerate freezes in many area. Because of it's durability
and cold tolerance, it is commonly grown in areas that cannot grow other more
tropical species. Interestingly, when the Queen Palm is hybridized with
other more cold tolerant species like Butia capitata, one sees a bit
more cold tolerance than the pure species.
VARIABILITY IN APPEARANCE OF QUEEN PALMS AND
As discussed, variation in appearance can be secondary to
cultural issues. Also important are Queens from natively different
populations in the wild and from hybridization. When looked at thoroughly as a species, one will see variations in the size of
the trunk, overall height, length of the leaves, size of the fruit and color of
the leaflets. Probably most important of all factors is horticultural
care. Plants that receive plenty of water and fertilizer tend to be larger
and more green and robust. There are, however, other factors which can be
These include this species' tendency to hybridize as well as different genetic strains
in the wild that are then marketed domestically. Regarding hybridization, in habitat some localities overlap
with other Syagrus species and hybrids can occur. This can lead to seed collection of
"Queens" that end up looking a bit different from others of the same
species. Also, man can intentionally cross the Queen Palm with various
other genera (below). Any hybridization can result in major differences
between the hybrid and the "normal" Queen Palm.
Another factor involving
the difference seen among Queens can be that seed has been collected in
different native localities. It has been discussed among
enthusiasts for years that there is a variety called the "Silver Queen" which
comes from an area called Santa Catarina in Brazil. This "variety" was
touted to have bigger trunks, a silver appearance and faster growth rate.
This may be true. Undoubtedly there are differences among plants that are
offered at nurseries. But, their similarities are much more pronounced
than their differences.
Of significant importance to us now, however, is the hybridization of Queens with other
species or genera. In recent times, one of the most popular of these
hybrids is known as the Mule Palm. This is an intergeneric hybrids between
the seed bearing Butia capitata ( Pindo Palm, Jelly palm) and the Queen Palm.
Queen pollen is transferred onto the blossom of the Butia.
cross has also been done, but it is the true Mule Palm (Butia seed bearer) that is most popular.
This hybrid is an attractive palm that resembles a Queen Palm but is more cold
hardy. It is not as tall but still an excellent grower. It is
particular sought after when enthusiasts routinely see temperatures into the
mid to upper teens F. Because this hybrid's production takes hand pollination of
the flowers, plants tend to be expensive.
The Mule Palm, Butia X Queen,
photo by M.H.
The Mule Palm, Butia X Queen, photo by M.H.
Below is a hybrid between a
Queen and a Butia..
DIGGING AND MOVING QUEEN PALMS
There is no question that the Queen Palm can be dug and
moved from one location to another. Specimens will tolerate the dig and
transplant easily. However, in the nursery trade this is seldom done.
This is because the costs of digging and replanting are greater than what people
will pay for a large specimen Queen Palm. And, a much more affordable and
small plant will quickly become quite large. As nursery plants are affordable and very available, there is essentially
no demand for large dug specimens. Therefore, homeowners who want one
removed typically have to pay a tree removal service to eliminate the plant.
"Palm diggers" seldomly remove them.
USAGE OF QUEEN PALMS IN LANDSCAPE
Consumers worldwide have used Queen Palms for making a landscape
statement. They are big palms and get quite tall. Given their ease
of growth, it is quite common to see them in domestic or commercial plantings.
They are one of the best palms for establishing canopy (shade from the sun and
protection from cold). However, because they are so commonly seen
everywhere, enthusiasts and creative landscape companies tend not to use them.
Perhaps this is a bit unfair to the species because it is quite attractive.
But, collectors seem to dismiss this species as they can look up and down the
street in both directions and see dozens of Queens. Even with this, the
Syagrus romanzoffiana remains the number one most commonly sold palm
tree in department and outlet stores in Southern California. It is not
rare to see novices overplant their yard with the Queen Palm. And, it is
often common for such people who later become enthusiasts, to remove most of
their Queen Palms at a later date.
Both photos below show Queen Palms in domestic plantings.
Queen Palms are one of those species that could
be utilized to line a street or driveway. This is commonly seen in Southern
California and other parts of the world. They give a majestic appearance
and the crowns are eventually up against the blue sky. Alternative species
commonly used for parkway plantings include Royal Palms, King Palms and Fishtail
Queen Palms lining a driveway on the left. On the right
being used in a public park.
There are other more unusual Syagrus species that could be used as a
substitute for the Queen Palm The problem is that most landscape architects
and contractors don't know the other species. They rest on the facts that
everyone knows Queen Palms, that they are cheap and readily available.
Therefore, to the unimaginative person, Queen Palms are selected off the
"short list" and used over and over again. Hopefully with time such
professionals will come to recognize the virtues of alternative species.
Picture on the left below shows the Queen Palm as
a parkway planting (left). To the right are Queens in a commercial
QUEEN PALM GROUPINGS
Most people plant Queen Palms as a single plant.
They might plant many in their yard or project, but these are typically not
grouped. This is because, as a single tree, the Queen is quite large.
However, one occasionally sees groups of Queen Palms, most commonly three
together (like we see with King Palms). The result might be three
similar sized plants with time or sometimes stair stepping in sizes. Such a planting gives a lot of canopy
generated shade below. Of note, to get the bending out appearance of
the Queens (below), they have to be grown from a seedling stage together.
If you merely take three older plants and put them in the ground close to each
other, you get three vertical
trunks without the bend in the trunks at the ground.
On the left you see a "triple Queen. On the right
you see the base of this grouping.
DISEASE AND PESTS WITH QUEEN PALMS
In Southern California, the most common problems we see with growing
Queen Palms is cultural. This means they are given too little water, too
little fertilizer, or are no given enough ample sun. In terms of insects,
Queens can be afflicted with scale, mealybug or even aphids. Older
specimens can get trunk boring insect damage. And, a decades old tree can
be subject to termites. Diseases and pests are more common in sickly or
poorly maintained plants.
USAGE OF QUEEN PALMS IN CONTAINERS OR IN
Queen Palms are not the ideal containerized species of palm to grow.
This is because they grow very rapidly and quickly surpass the size of their
container. For instance, on moving a 15g Queen
into a 20g pot, one typically only has one to two years before the roots have
totally occupied the container. If not moved up to a larger pot, the tree
starts to look stressed and sickly. Another reason that this species is
a bad choice for a container is that they get quite tall quickly and winds can
literally blow over the entire plant. It is true that huge concrete
containers can be used for Queens, but typically ornamental or nursery pots just
don't have enough soil volume to support a tall Queen Palm.
For many of the same reasons, the Queen Palm is a poor choice for growing inside
the house. They quickly approach the ceiling and often look anemic and
stressed. Also, inherently, this species does not like being indoors where it
gets less air circulation and humidity. For this reason, it is seldom
recommended as a house plant.
ALTERNATIVES IN LANDSCAPE TO THE QUEEN
There are many other palms that can be used instead of
the more common Queen Palm. And, these alternative species are all
beautiful and give large specimen palms. For example, one can use other species of
Possibilities are S. botryophora, amara, coronata and pseudococcos.
Characteristics of these species are given elsewhere at this website. One
could also choose alternative genera such as Roystonea, Archontophoenix,
on the left is Syagrus botryophora, on the right Syagrus
Below is a Syagrus coronata
On the left is Syagrus sancona, on the
right Archontophoenix cunninghamiana
Below is Roystonea regia on the
left and Caryota gigas on the right. Both form canopy.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT QUEEN
QUESTION: Can I stunt my Queen Palm so it won't get so tall?
Yes, one can deprive this species such that it will not grow well and probably
never get too tall. But, it won't look good. A professional would
just suggest you try a different species rather than try to create an ugly
QUESTION: How do
I stop my Queen from forming seeds? There is no available chemical or drug
that will do this. Rather, we suggest you remove the blossom(s) when they first
appear. This is not difficult and will prevent the dropage of fruit.
You have to keep up with it.
QUESTION: Do I
have to cut off the old dead leaves on my Queen Palm? You don't have to,
but the tree looks much better if you do. They will drop off by themselves
in time. Remember, such dropping might be at an unpredictable time and hit
a car or person.
Because they were so cheap, I planted way too many Queen
Palms in my yard and now they are everywhere. What can I do?
This is just poor planing. Yes, you saved money but the cost
of removal will more than exceed the savings you made at the time of planting. We usually tell consumers
to just plant a few if they like them. Never use them all over the place so that Queens are all
you have. If one has this problem, the only option is to physically remove
them or put up with their presence.
seeds of Queen Palm poisonous? To be best of our knowledge, they are not.
In fact, they are eaten by people in some parts of the world and by animals.
architects always use Queen Palms in commercial design? There are two
reasons for this. First, they are always available commercially and are
affordable. The second is that many architects are many times unaware of good
alternatives and use them from their "tried and true" list. This has been
going on for many years.
Queen Palms in my yard. Will anyone buy them? The answer is
typically "no" for reasons given above.
in a very cold area. Will Queen Palms grow for me outdoors? Queen
Palms take down to about 17 degrees. If you get colder than this, you'll
need to utilize cold protection or pick an alternative species
heard of "Baby Queens". What are they? This is merely a name given
to a species of Chamaedorea, a New World palm that typically likes shade.
This species, C. plumosa, is different and can be grown in sun along coastal strips and is
attractive. But, it has a fairly thin trunk and does not resemble a Queen
Palm. It was just a name given by growers to market their product.
Queen Palms are a type of Syagrus.
They are grown quite commonly worldwide in
temperate and tropical areas. They are fast growing, get quite tall and
usually quite affordable for the consumer. Overplanting of Queens can
overwhelm a garden quite easily and one should limit the number used.
Queens make poor potted or indoor plants. They need pruning from
time to time and the seeds are non-toxic as far as we know. Queens are
commonly used in commercial designs because of availability and cost. Cold
tolerance of the Queen Palm is the mid to upper teens F. Palm enthusiasts
tend not to utilize Queen Palms because they are so common. A hybrid
between the Pindo Palm and the Queen palm is known as the Mule Palm. It is
very attractive and more cold hardy than the Queen. Finally,
Queens can be easily dug and moved but there is little demand for them in the
marketplace so it is hard to sell them.
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