Fan palms are sometimes (and quite unfairly) regarded by many novice gardeners as poor cousins of feather-leafed palms. It’s easy to see why. With so few examples on the market many gardeners regard Trachycarpus fortunei and Washingtonia robusta as the only real examples of fan palms available. We’re pleased to tell you that’s certainly not the case!
We also believe that, whilst feather leaf palms are beautiful, so are fan palms. So much so that they deserve to be more widely planted both for their variety and diversity as well as their hardiness.
Not only is there considerable variety amongst fan palms, they also provide much-needed diversity in a garden filled with feather-leafed palms. The different leaf structure is necessary to bring out the beauty of feather-leafed palms. This works in much that same way that a garden filled exclusively with palm trees can look tired but the variation provided by flowers, bushes, trees, bananas and ferns brings out the beauty of the palms.
As a general rule fan palms are hardier than feather-leafed palms. This applies not just to the cold but also to wind and in particular drought. Where some feather-leaved palms can look tattered after winter fan palms typically look quite untroubled. Certainly if you live in a challenging environment then fan palms should form the bulk of your planting.
First however a definition. There are two types of ‘fan’ palm: palmate and costapalmate. Palmate refers to palms with circular or semi-circular leaves which radiate from a central point. Costapalmate appear like fan palms but the leaflets originate from along the leaf blade (in a way they look a little like a cross between ‘true’ fan palms and feather-leafed palms).
Contrary to what you may have believed fan palms come in a variety of sizes, colours and appearances. From relatively small and delicate Rhapis excelsa to the massive Corypha genus there’s a fan palm for any sized garden. Fan palms also show even more colour variation than feather-leafed palms. In fact you’ll find fan palms growing in New Zealand with leaf colours as diverse as bright green, blue, grey and even silver. In terms of size they vary from the dwarf Sabal minor to tall Washingtonia robusta.
Our pick of the best fan palms for New Zealand are:
Brahea armata (Mexican Blue Palm)
Brahea edulis (Guadalupe Palm)
Chamaerops humilis (Mediterranean Fan Palm)
Livistona australis (Australian Cabbage Palm)
Livistona decipiens (Ribbon Fan Palm)
Pritchardia sp. (Loulu Palm)
Sabal minor (Dwarf Palmetto Palm)
Sabal palmetto (Palmetto Palm)