1YC9C3UYXThis exotic looking palm is pretty tolerant of cold, and has lovely fan foliage – a good choice if you want to bring a touch of the ‘exotic’ to the garden.

Common name:  Chinese Windmill Palm, Windmill Palm or Chusan Palm

Native areas: Central China (Hubei southwards), southern Japan (Kyushu), south to northern Burma and northern India, growing at altitudes of 100–2,400 metres

Historical notes: Trachycarpus fortunei has been cultivated in China and Japan for thousands of years, for its coarse but very strong leaf sheath fibre, used for making rope, sacks, and other coarse cloth where great strength is important. The species was brought from Japan to Europe by the German physician Philipp Franz von Siebold in 1830. The common name refers to Chusan Island (now Zhousan Island), where Robert Fortune first saw cultivated specimens of the species. In 1849, Fortune smuggled Windmill palm plants from China to the Kew Horticultural Gardens and the Royal garden of Prince Albert. The Windmill Palm was later named Trachycarpus fortunei, after him. RHS Award of Garden Merit (AGM) in 2002.

Features: Trachycarpus fortunei is slow growing but can grow to 12–20 m tall on a single stem, the diameter of which is up to 15–30 centimetres. The trunk is very rough with the persistent leaf bases clasping the stem as layers of coarse fibrous material. It is a fan palm with the leaves with the long petiole bare except for two rows of small spines, terminating in a rounded fan of numerous leaflets; each leaf is 140–190 centimetres long, with the petiole 60–100 centimetres long, and the leaflets up to 90 centimetres long. It is a somewhat variable plant, especially as regards its general appearance and some specimens are to be seen with leaf segments having straight and others having drooping tips. The flowers are yellow (male) and greenish (female), about 2–4 millimetres across, borne in large branched panicles up to 1 metre long in spring; it is dioecious, with male and female flowers produced on separate trees. The fruit is a yellow to blue-black, kidney-shaped drupe 10–12 millimetres long, ripening in mid autumn.

Uses:   Trachycarpus fortunei is cultivated as a trunking palm in gardens and parks throughout the world in warm temperate and subtropical climates. Its tolerance of cool summers and cold winters makes it highly valued by palm enthusiasts, landscape designers and gardeners. Chusan Palms make attractive garden focal points, and look good alongside other exotic plants such as Cordyline australis, the New Zealand cabbage palm and the semi-hardy banana, Musa basjoo. Large-leafed plants such as cannas or bamboos also work well. Although usually grown as a solitary plant, the impact is greater with a clump of three or more.

Growing conditions:  It can be grown successfully in such cool and damp but relatively winter-mild locales as Scotland, Southern New England, Long Island, and British Columbia, Canada, as well as in warm temperate climates in parts of the United States, Europe (predominantly UK, France and Germany), New Zealand, and Asia. It does not grow well in very hot climates. It will grow in most soils as long as they are well drained and ideally needs a sheltered position, out of full sun.

Chusan Palms at Vancouver, Canada. Pic by Keepitsurreal

Chusan Palms at Vancouver, Canada. Pic by Keepitsurreal

Further information:


RHS- Trachycarpus fortunei

How to Grow : Chusan Palm- Daily Telegraph

Barcham Trees Directory- Trachycarpus fortune

Trachycarpus fortunei in the Exotic Garden, Norwich

Choosing a Palm

Old School Gardener