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SPINY PALM TREES

by Phil Bergman

 

DISCUSSION AND PHOTOS OF SPINY PALMS

 

General information about various spiny palm trees including comments on some that can be grown successfully outdoors in Southern California.  Palm trees with spines are unique and often sought after by enthusiasts.

INTRODUCTION

With so many species of spiny palm trees in existence, it would take pages upon pages to write about all of them.  There are actually a lot more spiny palms than you'd think.  Therefore, I will concentrate on some species that not only have spines of their leaf stems but also on the trunk and even the leaves.  In contrast, there are many more common palms that have spines but only on their leaf stems.  For instance, many Phoenix Palms (Date Palms) have spines on their leaf stems - but only there.  These are seen on many more common palms including Livistona, Brahea and others.  This article deals with species that have spines elsewhere.  And, there are a few that can be grown outdoors in some areas of Southern California.  Some people love them while others would never consider planting spiny palms.  Below are a few species to consider because they look so different.

Acanthophoenix crinita
Archontophoenix crinita


Acanthophoenix crnita
is a rather new addition to the list. We first began propagating this palm about ten years ago. It is somewhat difficult to germinate, but once established is a fast grower. We’ve had good success with plants sold. Reports are that it will take into the low 30º F. Some have grown this species in sun, others in strong filtered light. It is really spiny. 

Acanthophoenix rubra
Acanthophoenix rubra

Acanthophoenix rubra
is a sought after species with silver on the underside of the leaflet. It likewise seems to be cold hardy but may need a little more protection from sun while small. Both species are quite beautiful.



Acanthophoenix rubra spines
Spines of an A. rubra
Acocomia aculeata
Acrocomia aculeata

Acrocomia aculeata
Acrocomia aculeata

Acrocomia species
can be grown here. Germination is the trick with this genus. Germination requires high heat. Plants are quick growing and require full sun after attaining five gallon size. Species I’ve grown will tolerate temperatures into the low 30º F. Although some taxonomists have lumped multiple species together, growers still appreciate differences between the old “species”. It is often touted that Acrocomia totai is the most cold hardy, tolerating freezes. Most Acrocomias retain spines on the trunks for some time and make very large trees. There are dwarf forms.





Acrocomia species
Acrocomia species
Aiphanes erosa
Aiphanes erosa, 

Aiphanes
are being successfully grown by some palm enthusiasts. Aiphanes caryotifolia tolerates temperatures into the low30º F. With ample humidity, they can grow in full sun. If you have hot and dry conditions, give them some protection. A. caryotifolia is probably the easiest species to grow and the most cold hardy. It grows at a relatively fast rate.

Aiphanes caryotifolia
Aiphanes caryotifolia

Aiphanes erosa trunk
Aiphanes erosa
trunk
Astrocaryum mexicanum
Astrocaryum mexicanum

Astrocaryum mexicanum & Others
are beautiful spiny pinnate palms. Even the collected fruits are spiny! Germination is easy with fresh seeds and growth rate is moderate. This species is not a large palm. The specimen in the San Diego Zoo has been there at least twenty years and seen cold temperatures in the low 30ºs F. Anticipate a small trunk about three inches in diameter and a crown that is no more than six or eight feet across. Filtered or broken light is preferred. Other species of Astrocaryum have not proven good for Southern California and  Astrocaryum standleyanum and others will eventually die from our cold winters.

Astrocaryum mexicanum
Astrocaryum mexicanum trunk


Bactris gasipaes

Bactris species
are seldom grown in Southern California. They usually suffer during the coldest winters.  Several are stunning plants! Temperatures under the mid 30ºs F. will damage the foliage of most Bactris.  If you are attempting to grow this species, acclimate it into fairly strong sun while still trying to give it some overhead protection. Bactris have wicked spines on the trunks and leaves. Be careful not to get poked when you are around palms with spines.

Spines on trunk Bactris speciesf
Spines on trunk of Bactris species
Calamus caryotoides
Calamus caryotoides

 Calamus species
and related genera are being grown well in Southern California. The attractive Calamus caryotoides makes a nice clumping palm and can be grown in most non-freezing areas. It prefers filtered light. Some have grown it in full sun with success. Other species should be tried, especially non-equatorial varieties. There seems to be promise with some of the northern Indochina species. Most Calamus are easy to germinate and grow at a moderate speed

Plectocomia himilayana
is a more recent spiny palm that's become available on the market. It has spines on its trunk and petioles.  Note on the photo to the right how the spines are clustered in groups.  It is fairly cold hardy and grows in Southern California. 

   Plectocomia himilaya,
Plectocomia himilaya, nursery

   Plectocomia himilaya,
Plectocomia himilayana trunk


  
Zombia antillarum
Zombia antillarum

Zombia antillarum trunk
Zombia antillarum trunk

Some palm species have modified “spines” which are large in diameter and are often attached to the trunks. These are called “needle” palms and are not usually thought of as spiny palm trees. 

 Trithrinax species  and Rhapidophyllum hystrix
are very easy to grow and have needles on their trunks. Some have interesting trunk fiber as well. Both these genera are fan palms and all are extremely cold hardy. Trithrinax prefer full sun whereas

 Rhapidophyllum hystrix
is a species from the United States that has fairly long, black needle like spines and is known as the Needle Palm.  It is more beautiful in partial sun or strong filtered light. Growth rates are slow to medium.

Zombia antillarum.

One of the most interesting “needle” trunk palms is Zombia antillarum.  It is a gorgeous suckering palm with the most interesting pattern of swirling needles and fiber on its trunks. Although not as cold hardy as Trithrinax and Rhapidophyllum and Zombia can be grown in warmer coastal areas. It prefers full or near-full sun. 

Rhapidophyllum hystrix
Rhapidophyllum hystrix

Verschaffeltii splendida
Verschaffeltia splendida

 

Salacca magnifica
Salacca magnifica


Verschafeltia splendida Phoenicophorium borsigianum

 Salacca magnifica 

There are some gorgeous spiny palms that will not grow here. These include the species listed above.  All are very tropical appearing and are stunningly beautiful.  The first two have prominent orange color. All three of these species will succumb during a freeze and should only be attempted in the most protected areas outdoors in Southern California.  However, there are many beautiful spiny palms that can be grown here.  Palms with spines are truly different. 

Give one a try! 

Spines on Acrocomia species

Spines on younger Acrocomia species

 

Phoenicophorium borsigianum
Phoenicophorium species

Salacca species
Spines on Salacca species 





 

(End) 

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Phil Bergman
Owner and Author

Jungle Music Palms, Cycads and Tropical Plants
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