4’-6' Christmas Palm Tree
Christmas Palm Tree
Palms are one of those iconic Florida plants. They are great for adding tropical flare to the landscape, but if you have a small planting area, finding a palm to fit can be a challenge. Christmas palm (Adonidia merrillii) is one of the few palm species that will do well in a small site.
The common name, “Christmas palm,” comes from the clusters of bright red fruits that adorn these trees in late fall and winter, giving the plants the appearance of being decorated for the holidays. Christmas palms are also sometimes referred to as Manila palms.
Native to the Philippines, these trees have been cultivated throughout the tropics for centuries. They grow quickly until reaching about 6 feet tall then continue to grow more slowly. With time, Christmas palms can grow as tall as 25 feet with a canopy spread of 5 to 8 feet and a 6-inch diameter trunk.
But Christmas palm's main attraction is the fall and winter appearance of very showy clusters of glossy, bright red fruits.
For increased visual interest this single-trunked palm is often planted in groups of two or four. Clumping them like this causes each trunk to grow outwards in a graceful curve. When using this approach, take care to provide enough space for each plant's canopy and root ball—sometimes this method causes competition for growth, with one or more of the plants failing to thrive.
Planting and Care
Christmas palms grow best in full sun but can tolerate partial shade. With the recent history of warm winters, use of Christmas palm in the landscape has migrated north to central Florida, but these palms are only cold hardy to 30°F. Their diminutive size when young makes them a good candidate for containers, which can be moved inside and protected during a freeze. Christmas palm is fairly drought tolerant once established and it is moderately tolerant of salt spray on the foliage.
These palms are self-cleaning, meaning that once a leaf dies, it drops off cleanly on its own. This characteristic is great for reducing pruning requirements in the landscape.
While these low-maintenance palms are well adapted to Florida’s nutrient-poor soils, they occasionally suffer from boron deficiency. Symptoms of boron deficiency include small, malformed new leaves, multiple unopened spear leaves, and sideways growth.
Christmas palms are relatively disease-free with the exception of lethal yellowing. This disease, as the name would suggest, has no cure. While trees can be protected from lethal yellowing with preventative trunk injections, this is expensive as the palm needs continuous protection for its entire life.
Some gardeners choose to cut off the flower stalks before the fruits develop to avoid the mess from fallen fruits. But others love the look of the attractive red fruits; leaving them on the tree provides you with red-hot cool season color!
Appearance: The Christmas Palm has a smooth slender grey trunk that is slightly swollen at the base and ringed with old leaf scars. The Christmas Palm may be used alone or may also be planted in groups of two or three.
Bright green crownshaft supports a crown of 10-12 pinnate, or feather-shaped, fronds. Short crownshaft is about 3ft long. Leaves are glossy, strongly arched, grow to a length of 5 feet with sharp-edged leaflets that are up to 2 feet long by 2 inches wide.
Flowers/Fruits: During summer months the Christmas Palm produces light green flower buds that turn into creamy blossom. Unisexual flowers are held by 2ft long branched stalks that emerge from the area where the crownshaft attaches to the trunk. In December flowers are followed by green oval fruits that turn bright red as they are ripe. Berrie-like fruits are 1 inch long and 1/5 inch wide. They hang in clusters looking like Christmas ornament, therefore palm’s common name is Christmas Palm.
Growth Rate: Moderate to Fast. In the wild Veitchia merrillii is known to grow up to 25ft tall but in cultivation, it usually doesn’t get taller than 10 – 20 ft and 5-10 ft wide.
Outdoor/Indoor Use: Both.
Cold Tolerance: The Christmas Palm is not considered cold hardy and will not tolerate frost well. It can tolerate cold temperatures only down to 30F for a short period of time. It is great for growing in USDA Zones 10a (30 to 35 F) to 11 (above 40 F).
Light Req: Full sun to partial shade. It likes full sun but can also grow in broken shade.
Water Req: Moderate. The Christmas Palm is moderately salt tolerant prefers moist well-drained soil. To avoid root rot, don’t let it sit in water. It can tolerate drought for a short time when mature enough.
Maintenance: Easy to Moderate. It does not require much maintenance. The only thing you need to do is to remove old dead leaves to keep it looking neat. To prevent nutritional deficiency, apply good quality fertilizer that has continuous release formula twice a year during the growing season.
Propagation: Propagated by seed. It will take around 1-3 months to germinate.