Colorful Palms- Not all Palms are Simple GreenBy Geoff Stein (palmbob)
May 19, 2010
There are over 2500 species in the palm family (Arecaceae) and most are indeed some shade of green (though the hues and intensities vary tremendously). And most people think of green when palms are mentioned. Those that know me or at least of my bent towards tropicals and succulents may think my relative disinterest in flowering plants means I am a 'green freak'. One does not normally associate most of the colors of the rainbow with palm trees, which, for the most part, do have very uninteresting or insignificant flowers. But some palms show an astounding variety of colors competing with the best of the ornamental foliage plants in cultivation. The colors of the foliage, fruits, trunks and even the roots of some palms are nearly unreal and vibrant in their displays. As you will see below, not all is green in the world of palms.
Like many other foliage plants, palms leaves are sometimes other colors than green. In a previous article I wrote on blue palms, some of these plants below were included.
Chamaerops humilis (aka the common Mediterranean Fan Palm) can come in blues (left); middle shot of a Copernicia hospita (several other species have bluish leaves as well) and right shows a rare form of Pritchardia with a bluish waxy cast on its leaves in Hawaii
Some varieties of Nannarhops (native to Iran and Iraq) have very bluish leaves (left and center); right is a Sabal yapa seedling in my yard
With other palms, it is the new leaf only that is brilliantly colored (perhaps to make it less edible looking to leaf-eating creatures?)
A popular palm collected simply because of the red new leaf, and labeled Flame Thrower Palm is Chambeyronia macrocarpa (left and center). Another somewhat common palm with a new red leaf is Laccospadix (right)
Some palms have variegation that makes thier leaves colorful. Variegation in the palm world (like with many other plants) can be a freak, random event, or occur predictably and consistently.
This Chamaerops (Mediterranean Fan Palm- left photo) is sort of a freak of nature, though quite attractive. This is a rare mutation. Licuala 'Mapu' is a more predictable and extremely sought after mutation, as are these variegated Rhapis in the right photo
In some palms, it is just the immature leaves that are colorful
Latania lontaroides is a dull-grey-leaved plant as an adult, but for the first 5-10 years it has brilliantly colored leaves like those on the left. Livistona mariae has average green leaves when adult, but as a seedling, this hardly palm can be remarkably red (right)
And some palms just have some nice non-green color on the undersides of their leaves.
Brahea pimo has wonderfully fuzzy leaves with pinks and oranges on the undersides of the leaves (left); Kerriodoxa has nearly a pure white underside (middle) and Livistona fulva has coppery undersides (right).
Though colorful leaves tend to be the most obvious parts of palms that are not all green, some palms also have nicely colored petioles (the leaves' 'stem').
Some palms have brightly colored, or at least strikingly colored non-green stems or trunks.
But far more inpressive than the trunk in most brilliant colored palms is the crownshaft (not all palms have a crownshaft) that can vary tremendously across the color spectrum
One of the most shocking and colorful of all crownshafted palms, Dictyocaryum lamarckium (left); One of the most famous and brilliantly colored of all palms, the Lipstick Palm (Cyrtostachys renda- middle), and Carpoxylon marcosperma (right)
Despite what I said earlier about flowers being rather dull, some palms have colorful flowers and/or flower spathes
Palm Fruit is typically colorful, presumably to attract animals to consume it and spread about the seed. But some fruits really stand out.
Even some of our common palms in southern California make colorful fruits: Butia capitata (Jelly Palm) left; Howea forsteriana (Kentia Palm) middle; and Livistona chinensis (Chinese Fan Palm) has nice blue-green fruits- right
Lastly even exposed palm roots can add a lot of color to the landscape
Though there are hundreds more examples of great colors in the palm world, I cannot include them all here. But you get the idea. For more photos of great palms, you should visit this website looking under Arecaceae in Davesgarden, or Palmpedia, an amazing website full of palm information and great photos, or one of the two other following links:
All the PlantFiles listings in the Arecacea family