By Ralph E. Mitchell
Native plants that are ornamental, highly drought-tolerant and even salt-tolerant in the palm category are something all coastal landscapers are looking for. Enter the Florida thatch palm – a beautiful, slow-growing classy palm that stands out in the crowd. Other than being a little temperature sensitive, the Florida thatch palm is very sustainable and fits especially well into coastal areas being both salt-tolerant and wind resistant.
You may have seen Florida thatch palms near the coast and points south of Charlotte County. I have seen them in Punta Gorda and the Englewood area where they are particularly well-suited to our salty air conditions, but not flooding from saltwater. The yellow-green fronds are palmate (fan-shaped) in nature, densely arrayed in a tight rounded canopy. The fronds are attached to a relatively short, three to five inch diameter trunk which rarely grows over twenty-feet tall. Mature Florida thatch palms produce sprays of white flowers which are followed by green and then white fruit.
The Florida thatch palm is very well adapted to our high pH soils, so this is one problem overcome in our normally alkaline residential-fill landscapes. Also, while best grown in at least 10A hardiness zones where you would expect minimum winter temperatures as low as thirty to thirty-five degrees Fahrenheit, the Florida thatch palm has been known to tolerate twenty-six degrees, with frond damage noted at twenty-eight degree F. So, don’t push this envelop too far and take advantage of any microclimates. Use this palm in large containers for patios, for seaside planting, or as a specimen in a small garden situated in full sun or light shade.
The Florida thatch palm is considered an endangered species protected in Florida, so you should not collect plants from the wild. Fortunately, these palms take well to cultivation and are readily available in the nursery trade where they are propagated by seed. So, other than buying an established specimen at a nursery, you can propagate your own using seeds purchased or obtained from a cultivated specimen. Best started in the heat of the summer, it will take up to ten weeks to germinate, so be very, very patient. The good news is that the majority of seeds planted germinate!
This nice small palm may have a great future in tour landscape – after all, it is Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ approved! See if you can find one in our local landscapes and you will fall for this plant! For more information on all types of palms suitable for our area, please call our Master Gardener volunteers on the Plant Lifeline on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 1 to 4 pm at 764-4340 for gardening help and insight into their role as an Extension volunteer. Don’t forget to visit our other County Plant Clinics in the area. Please check this link for a complete list of site locations, dates and times – https://sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu/media/sfylifasufledu/charlotte/docs/pdf/Plant-Clinics-Schedule1.pdf. Our Eastport Environmental Demonstration Garden is always open to the public outside the gate at 25550 Harbor View Road. Master Gardener volunteers tend this garden on Tuesday mornings from 8 to 10 am and are available for questions. Ralph E. Mitchell is the Director/Horticulture Agent for the UF/IFAS Charlotte County Extension Service. He can be reached at 941-764-4344 or email@example.com.
Brown, S. H. & Cressman, D. (2010) Thrinax radiata. The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS – Lee County
Weaver, R. E. & Anderson, P. J. (2010) Notes on Florida’s Endangered and Threatened Species – FDAC
United States Department of Agriculture – Agricultural Research Service – https://planthardiness.ars.usda.gov/PHZMWeb/#
The Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ Guide to Plant Selection & Landscape Design (2010) The University of Florida Extension Services, IFAS
Landre, C. (2019) Florida Thatch Palm – South-Florida-Plant-Guide – https://www.south-florida-plant-guide.com/thatch-palm.html