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.
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
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 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.
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
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.
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 erosa trunk
Astrocaryum mexicanum & Others arebeautiful 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
and others will eventually die from our cold winters.
Bactris species are
seldom grown in Southern California. They usually suffer during the coldest
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.