This group of windmill (or Chusan) palms, Trachycarpus fortunei, occupies a prominent spot in a commercial landscape on West Burnside Street.

burnside_trachy1Driving by a couple weeks ago, I noticed this group’s partner tree across the parking lot wasn’t looking so good.

burnside_tracy2A bad sign when all the leaves are brown.  That should only happen gradually to the oldest leaves, which are continually replaced by evergreen growth.

burnside_tracy5Closer 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.

burnside_trachy3I 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…

burnside_trachy7What 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.

burnside_trachy8I’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.

birthday_palmNative 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
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4 Responses to Uncovered

  1. Julie Fukuda says:

    As you may remember from the Mejiro house, those come up all over the place. At one time I took about eight of them in pots out to Tama, and had the scouts plant them along the top of the hill where kids often played and caused erosion. It was a great success in that regard, as the spiky fronds kept kids off the top of the hill. Now one at the very top is probably 110 feet or higher. The others are still low enough to keep kids off. Meanwhile, a keyaki, that was in a pot with another sapling (I’ll have to look up the name) got planted at the other end of the same hill next to the stairs. The kids planted those two trees without separating them and they are woven together in a giant tree probably 30 feet by now.
    A palm I brought to our house in a pot (like the Biwa) had taken root outside the garden door. I had to tie a string around the fronds so I could get past it out the door and now it is peeking over the wall. I would say that is very hardy because there is very little direct sun at that spot and only a foot of soil between the wall bases.
    When they get very tall and hard to reach, they begin to look rather messy. A friend almost had his house on fire when someone stuck a lighted cigarette into the mesh bark in a tree close to his house. He told me it went up like a torch.

    • Mom, keyaki is Zelkova — it’s everywhere in Portland, as a street tree. I love the bark and the fall color! Hmm, are “no smoking” signs needed next to public plantings of palms? I don’t remember them sprouting as volunteers in Japan — wow, I’d love to visit that 100-foot+ tall palm…

  2. Loree says:

    I gawk at that planting every time I drive down that stretch of Burnside. There are many treasures mixed in, although I had noticed it overall looked a little worse for the wear this summer. Now one less palm…

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