🐾 Maybe the reason I love animals so much, is because the only time they have broken my heart is when theirs has stopped beating.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Windmill Palm (Trachycarpus fortunei)

Windmill Palm Sept 2012
Not being a palm tree lover, I nevertheless planted my Windmill Palm in November 2006 on the advice of my local nursery. I like trees that can play host to lots of birds and their nests and as far as I was concerned, palm trees didn't fit this category. I especially dislike Date Palms, but I had my arm twisted, once the nurseryman told me it requires no pruning and is generally pest and disease free, and  although this palm is native to temperate and subtropical mountainous areas of Asia including southeastern China, Taiwan and the Chusan Islands, I agreed to plant the Fan Palm in my bathroom courtyard purely for ornamental display and I can honestly say I'm very glad I did!
Fruit of my Windmill Palm

 Windmill Palm fruit as it opens (this was 3 days after the above photograph was taken)
The Hemp palm or Windmill palm as it is commonly known (Trachycarpus fortunei), are dioecious evergreen palms with a stout, fibre-covered solitary trunk bearing rounded leaves palmately divided into linear segments. 

Male and female flowers are borne on separate plants (so this palm is said to be dioecious). They are densely arranged on 2-3 ft (0.6-0.9 m) long branched stalks called an inflorescence. The windmill palm's bright yellow inflorescence erupts from a packet-like bud in late winter and early spring and is held within the crown. On female plants the flowers are followed in late summer by round or oblong blue fruits that are about 1/2 in (1.3 cm) in diameter. Mine bears the yellow flowers but has never fruited, so I presume it is a male. In older individuals the fibers on the trunk sloughs away to reveal a smooth ringed surface. The Windmill palm is one of the most cold hardy palms available. It is beautifully compact and grows to heights of 20-40 ft (6.1-12.2 m) so no wonder it survived our very frosty winters here in Tarlton!
The coir-like hairy trunk
Now I get to the reason why I say I'm very glad I planted it. It is in full view from where I sit in the bath. This private courtyard is fully walled so in summer the folding-sliding doors are always fully open. From here I have watched the Cape Wagtails (Motacilla capensis) rear several sets of babies, the courtyard always offering a safe haven as they fledge, walking around the courtyard until they can manage to fly over the wall and into the garden. The youngsters would play, giving mock chase to one another, scrounge around for little insects and sometimes wander into the bathroom for a quick inspection. The Wagtails have hollowed out a beautiful chamber in the coir-like fibers of the trunk and lined it with soft grasses and feathers and have been using it for a few of years now, warm and safe from the elements

View of the palm from the bath

My OC Robin also just loves this courtyard, flitting from branch to branch in the palm, to great consternation of the Wagtails, who always try and scare him off but he firmly stands his ground or obligingly moves to the Olive tree for a while.
The weavers also make use of the long fronds of the palm leaves by snipping off a piece at the base and then flying off, tearing off long strips for their nests as they fly off. At first I was worried that it would damage the palm but it has had no significant effect. And they have provided me with hours of delightful watching as they sometimes struggle with the strips, often firmly clamping it in their beaks and flying backwards, tearing it off after a couple of attempts. I've even watched to birds fighting over the same strip, having a mid-air tug-of-war.
I can really recommend this lovely palm for your garden, trouble free, doesn't take up much space and South African birds love it!

The Palm in 2006 when I planted it (far right, in case you miss it!)
 My palm in 2009



  1. The trachycarpus fortunei is such a great palm, we grow several in the UK and its hardy, fast growing and looks great.

    Gaz Alternative Eden

  2. Trachycarpus fortunei 1.5m trunks about a year ago and planted it. After a month the leaves dried out and it never produced new leaves,we live about 30km apart and both our plants had the same reaction. I cut of all the dry leaves and is only left with the trunk, We don't know if the tree's are dead or must we just have patience. All the other palms and cycad's we bought are flourishing. Please advise. We live in Johannesburg, South Africa

    1. I have no idea what could have caused all your leaves to dry out Anonymous, but if it has not produced at least a couple of leaves at the top of the trunk within the season, then it sounds like it is dead. I would give it one more season and then remove it, in case there was a bug or some infection in it when you planted it.



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