This group of windmill (or Chusan) palms, Trachycarpus fortunei, occupies a prominent spot in a commercial landscape on West Burnside Street.
Driving by a couple weeks ago, I noticed this group’s partner tree across the parking lot wasn’t looking so good.
A bad sign when all the leaves are brown. That should only happen gradually to the oldest leaves, which are continually replaced by evergreen growth.
Closer examination – exposed roots. I thought at first that soil had been eroded by foot traffic, but then I concluded that soil washed away from the roots by the in-ground sprinkler head close by. Maybe it wasn’t planted at the proper depth either.
I thought about inquiring to see if it was possible to save this tree. But I was too late, because this next time I drove by a couple days later…
What a shame! Although it wasn’t as tall as the others (maybe from struggling along for some time?) , probably only about 10 feet tall, it looked OK on the Google street view image from April of this year — leaves yellowed, but still alive. These palms are slow growers that put on only about a foot a growth per year, and for that reason are expensive to purchase — around $100 for one not even as tall as your waist. Replacing with a sizable specimen would be costly.
I’m not sure what the take-away is here. Something about tree care, planting procedure, increased awareness of signs of early decline. Or sprinkler head location relative to plants?
In order to not end on a downer here, let’s talk about the many fine features of this hardy palm tree. It wasn’t ever a favorite for me even through I spent most of my early life in Japan where it is common. To my eye it seemed out of place in a temperate landscape. I don’t feel that way any longer, and planted one in my back yard this year – T. fortunei var. Wagnerianus, with smaller, stiffer leaves.
Native to China, windmill palm is one of the hardiest to cold, and often planted for tropical effect in the Pacific Northwest. Young plants are less hardy to cold, so it’s best to establish new plantings early in the season. It can grow in many soil types except wet. Supplemental water during the growing season will help its growth rate. It’s useful for tight spaces (as long as there is ample room up above for the 8-10 foot-wide crown) since the unbranched trunk is the narrowest at the base.
Trachycarpus fortunei, Windmill or Chusan palm
- Evergreen leaves up to 3 feet in diameter
- Hardy to cold, USDA zones 7-10
- stringy, fibrous bark
- Slow growth to 20 feet or more, over time
- Yellow flower clusters in spring
- Adaptable to sun or light shade