Tree of the week: Windmill Palm

There are some advertisements going around lately about frost tolerant palm trees.  Yes indeed, they do exist.  I was amazed to see such palm trees on a recent trip to Ireland.  Apparently, a type by the Latin name of Trachycarpus fortunei does survive some brief periods of frost. 

Better known by the common name, Windmill Palm, it is a type of Chinese palm with a rough trunk encased by persistent leaf bases.  You have to trim off the spent leaves and leave the base of the stems along the trunk.  It grows pretty tall; up to 25 feet or so.  It has separate male and female flowers on separate plants.  (Some hermaphrodites are known, since there are fewer strict rules about things like that in the plant Kingdom. )

 Separate sexes in plants, hmmm.  This is an interesting point when thinking about winter hardiness.  In most plants, the ones with the tolerance for the coldest temperatures are the ones that have the most build up of carbohydrates and sugars during the growing season. 

  • Which plants have the best chance for carbohydrate build up? 
    • Why, those which do not have carbohydrate sinks (or drains, haha on their sugars). 
  • And what is the best carbohydrate sink? 
    • A fruit. 
  • And what do male plants not produce? 
    • Fruits.
  • And what does that make male plants?
    • Full of antifreeze producing sugary juices. They have no chance for fruits to drain off the sugars.
  • So, those plants with a male and female flowers on separate plants may have the best chance to have a horticultural variety which is much more winter hardy than those plants which all produce fruits.


Another example of this extra hardy male plant is the cultivated Kiwi plant.  Actinidia sp. produces the kiwi fruit on the female plants.  Those plants cannot survive very cold winters because all the sugars go into making those fuzzy brown fruits we like to eat. 

However, Infamous has a beautiful example of Actinidia arguta ‘Kolomikta’ which is a cloned cultivar bearing only male flowers.  It has lived through -10 degrees F. and has shown no winter damage.  Similar to the Windmill Palm, where male plants are able to survive cold temperatures.  Now that is interesting.


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