Photo by Melody

PlantFiles: Needle Palm
Rhapidophyllum hystrix

Family: Arecaceae (ar-ek-AY-see-ee) (Info)
Genus: Rhapidophyllum (rap-ih-doh-FIL-lum) (Info)
Species: hystrix (HIS-triks) (Info)

3 vendors have this plant for sale.

15 members have or want this plant for trade.


4-6 ft. (1.2-1.8 m)

8-10 ft. (2.4-3 m)

USDA Zone 6b: to -20.5 C (-5 F)
USDA Zone 7a: to -17.7 C (0 F)
USDA Zone 7b: to -14.9 C (5 F)
USDA Zone 8a: to -12.2 C (10 F)
USDA Zone 8b: to -9.4 C (15 F)
USDA Zone 9a: to -6.6 C (20 F)
USDA Zone 9b: to -3.8 C (25 F)
USDA Zone 10a: to -1.1 C (30 F)
USDA Zone 10b: to 1.7 C (35 F)
USDA Zone 11: above 4.5 C (40 F)

Sun Exposure:
Full Sun
Sun to Partial Shade
Light Shade
Partial to Full Shade
Full Shade

Plant has spines or sharp edges; use extreme caution when handling

Bloom Color:

Bloom Time:
Late Spring/Early Summer
Mid Summer
Late Summer/Early Fall

Grown for foliage

Other details:
Average Water Needs; Water regularly; do not overwater
Provides winter interest

Soil pH requirements:
6.1 to 6.5 (mildly acidic)
6.6 to 7.5 (neutral)
7.6 to 7.8 (mildly alkaline)

Patent Information:

Propagation Methods:
From seed; germinate in vitro in gelatin, agar or other medium

Seed Collecting:
Properly cleaned, seed can be successfully stored

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to view:

By palmbob
Thumbnail #1 of Rhapidophyllum hystrix by palmbob

By palmbob
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By paul_cincinnati
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By paul_cincinnati
Thumbnail #4 of Rhapidophyllum hystrix by paul_cincinnati

By palmbob
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By palmbob
Thumbnail #6 of Rhapidophyllum hystrix by palmbob

By Denis_BC
Thumbnail #7 of Rhapidophyllum hystrix by Denis_BC

There are a total of 39 photos.
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21 positives
5 neutrals
1 negative

Gardeners' Notes:

Positive ROBTROPICS On Sep 23, 2013, ROBTROPICS from Pembroke, MA wrote:

I have several Needle Palms around my property on the South Shore of Massachusetts. I planted two young plants from Willis Orchards outside in the Spring of 2012 in a southern exposure. I covered them with pine needles for the winter and put a pot over them for heavy snow. They survived great. I also had a larger specimen from Briggs Nursery. I simply wrapped it in burlap and covered with a barrel during heavy snow. They look beautiful next to my Musa Basjoo Banana.

Neutral johnny26 On Sep 19, 2013, johnny26 from Fall River, MA wrote:

I just bought a 2 year old needle palm i live in zone 6 in southeastern mass. I potted it in a pot so i can bring it in doors for our very cold winter. I don't know how cold hardy a 2 year old needle palm is, I guess the older and bigger it gets the more cold tolerance it has.

Positive mmosley On Oct 27, 2012, mmosley from Pine Bluff, AR wrote:

After I returned home from vacation in Miami Beach, I checked up on my needle palm & noticed it has a new central spear growing! It's rather small, but it's green & has been pushing growth. I'll have to be sure to bring it inside on the coldest days, but I'm confident it'll rebound nicely (:

Neutral NorthSC On Mar 31, 2012, NorthSC from North, SC (Zone 8a) wrote:

Same experience here as mmosley88 - a dry spear pull at 22F (weeks or even months later). The plant size about 2 feet tall in a about 16" wide container. Stayed in the container all winter with one night at 22F and the other couple nights at around 24-25F and the rest 28F-30F and above freezing. I suppose hardiness of palms is shown for mature adult palms. Would be a great idea if all palms hardiness is also shown for juvenile palms and for seedlings as well.

Positive longjonsilverz On Mar 29, 2012, longjonsilverz from Centreville, MD wrote:

Needle Palms do very well here in Maryland's Eastern Shore (zone 7) I have a few of these and they flawlessly handle winter every year. However its important to understand that most Needle palms purchased here in the north have shipped in from warmer climates (usually Florida) and have never experienced a harsh winter yet. So they typically DO struggle in thier first winter or two until they become aclimated to the colder weather. Even though these palms are they world's best when it comes to cold, they usually need some protection until they become established. But when they do become established, its incredible how tough they are!

Needle palms are very sensitive to transplant and its best to avoid messing with the roots if possible. Although they are better than transplanting Sabal palms, they generally will be set back for a long time and will often lose their spear from the stress, which may explain some of the unsuccessful experiences with this palm.

Needle palms grow very slow, but can become very large, particularly in width, even here in Maryland. (some other hardy palms that I have had success with in zone 7, Dwarf palmetto, Windmill Palm)

***UPDATE: The winter of '13/14' was on of the coldest in many years for this area. Temperatures got as low as 5F on at least 5 different nights, and only reached 12F for a high at one point. Wind chills got as low as -30F. All of my palms had significant damage except one kind: The Needle Palm. All 4 of mine flawlessly handled it, with no signs of any stress or winter damage at all. One is also completely exposed to the northwestern winds. Sabal Minor only had light winter damage as well.

Negative mmosley88 On Jan 21, 2012, mmosley88 wrote:

The needle palm is a really interesting, beautiful palm tree. It loves hot, humid summers, since it is from the southeastern US. However, younger ones are no where near as cold hardy as older ones. The lowest temp we've had here so far was 21* F. Most of our below freezing temperatures haven't been below 30* F--only 7 freezing nights so far with even fewer frosts. Not a whole lot of winter rain, either. I checked my needle palm an hour ago, & it had spear pull! It was potted up in an appropriately sized pot with well-draining soil in the early summer. The offsets on it appear untouched. Poured hydrogen peroxide where the spear was. Hopefully the center trunk will produce another spear. If you decide to purchase a truly hardy needle palm, buy one of the large ones in those 20+ gallon pots & give it some protection for its first few years, I suppose. A great palm, but a bad experience /:

Positive agavebob On Aug 21, 2011, agavebob from dade city, OH wrote:

I planted 3 needle palms in the spring of 2010 and 2 are still alive and doing well 17 months later. The lost one was in the most protected area (against the house near the furnace exhaust vent. I believe it died due to lack of moisture being near the vent and under the eaves of the house (inside the dripline). The two survivors seem happy and have put on significant new foliage over the past two summers. I am very pleased to be growing palm trees north of the mason-dixon line (albeit only about 5 miles north.

Positive RonDEZone7a On Jun 8, 2011, RonDEZone7a from Wilmington, DE (Zone 7a) wrote:

I am in northern Delaware (Zone 7a) and have grown Needle Palms here with no problems for the last 10 years. They truly are one of the 2 hardy palm species you can grow this far north in the Mid-Atlantic States (the other being Sabal minor). Both palm species will benefit from good siting and some protection here, the first 3 winters. My Needles seem to do best in part-sun/part-shade locations.

One positive feature of Needle Palms, over Sabal minor, is that they can be transplanted fairly easily, if necessary. Sabal minors, on the other hand, can be difficult to move once established because of their underground stems. Needle Palms, however, get much larger than Sabal minors so this should be factored into your decision of which species to plant, where.

Positive SuburbanNinja80 On Apr 26, 2011, SuburbanNinja80 from Plainfield, IN (Zone 6a) wrote:

Its a Cool Palm that I bought but the Needle like Thorns on it is making me worried. Am going with a Saber Palms for now on. I Bought for One Reason and one Reason Only For geting my workplace to use Real palms outside for our Pool named Slapes Island. Plus I don't know its starting to Grow on me now. Its seems to be just like my Adam's yucca Plants.

June 22, 2011
I Planted this Palm back in April. This thing is Pushing out New Leafs like Crazy. Am sure by the End of its going to push out am Thinking like 3 Leafs at the Most to me. This is not slow at all.

Jan 16, 2012
This palm is a beast... just few nights ago it hit 10 degrees and it didn't hurt this palm as the other palms was feeling it. Windmill palm is hageing in there those normal sabal minor palms are too.
Dec. 23, 2014
Seriously, what the heck is wrong with this palm. Last winter it withstood
-14f degrees weather a wind chill of -45f. Hit of it was still green leafs.

Positive Polarpalm On Mar 5, 2011, Polarpalm from Martinsburg, WV wrote:

I got 4 large needle palms at the Home Depot last spring. (zone 6b) I planted them in front of my porch, which receives full sun in the winter and partial sun in the summer. All four plants pulled through the winter with flying colors!

I also have 1 small needle palm that I've had in a pot for a few years, which was planted outside a year ago. It also came through the winter, unprotected, doing wonderfully!

Unfortunately I also planted 1 blue pot needle palm that I got from Wal-Mart. The poor thing is burned to a crisp. Go figure.

Positive paulsprecker On Apr 10, 2010, paulsprecker from Cincinnati, OH wrote:

Just thought I would upload some current (4/2010) photos of the Cincinnati, Ohio College of Mount Saint Joseph campus needle palm that photographed and uploaded back in 2003. I was "Paul Cincinnati" then but I lost my password and have a different e-mail so can't retrieve the old username. Anyway, you can clearly see it is the same palm but with considerably more growth. It receives no special care AT ALL and has done exceedingly well. The palm has infloreses (spelling? those flower spike things at the base) each Spring and has several offsetting pups. The palm looks a little shabby and yellowed in these photos because it has had little time to recover from winter; I'll take and upload some more pics once it greens up and fills in this summer. I hope y'all enjoy it. My daughter doesn't seem to be as thrilled with needle palms as I am though, lol! Enjoy.

Neutral Mah_Boi941 On Jan 23, 2010, Mah_Boi941 from Cinncinati, OH (Zone 6a) wrote:

As soon as the weather reaches above 40 deg. at night. Im ordering 2 needle palms (Along with a Sabal Minor). I've read up on these palms and found out they are extremely cold hardy and can tolerate down to -15 degrees. Although this is the case, I'm still going to give them lots of winter protection for the first few years. Im glad these plants exist!

Positive dghornock On May 8, 2009, dghornock from bear (glasgow), DE (Zone 7b) wrote:

We have a seaonal home 7 miles SE of Dover, DE(7b.) We planted two needle palms, and they are doing fantastic. They have survived mild flooding, periods without any watering, and teperatures down to about 0 (ordinarily this area has yearly lows just below 10.) We did try this plant in SE PA ( 15 mi. nw of Lancaster, about 75 miles WNW of Philadelphia, and 75 miles NNE of Baltimore) but it froze and was replaced by a wax myrtle, which is doing well in the same site. I personally would not recommend it above Baltimore or Wilmington unless you are an expert or have a lot of money to spend on replacements.

Positive purplesun On Apr 14, 2009, purplesun from Krapets
Bulgaria (Zone 8a) wrote:

If there ever was a carefree palm, this is it. Has been growing in my garden in Krapets for three years now and has transformed itself from just a cotyledon and a tiny rootlet, still attached to the seed, to a 20 cm tall plant with at least 6 leaves. It is really slow growing tough. It has not been bothered by cold at all.
My specimen grew in the shade right at the drip line because I knew that just the regular amount of rain we receive would not suffice. It has not rotted, despite growing in soil that was virtually permanently moist, and it has loved our alkaline loam very much. It seems that these conditions have mimicked precisely its native environment.
I relocated my Needle Palm just recently to a much safer spot at the extreme fringe of my garden. We now have three small children in our extended family, with other babies coming, and I don't want a palm with such vicious spines right next to my patio. The plant's armament is its only drawback.

Positive CTpalmguy On Nov 9, 2008, CTpalmguy from South Lyme, CT (Zone 7a) wrote:

This is a great palm for adventurous gardeners as far north as greater New York! My Needle Palm has NEVER burned in zone 7a here in southern Connecticut and is starting to get some size. This is one subtropical plant you can really count on here in the upper Mid-Atlantic... If only they were more readily available!

Positive cactusman102 On Apr 3, 2008, cactusman102 from Lawrence, KS wrote:

Our most cold hardy palm; we have planted several over the years and have not lost any. We had lows of -14 in 2005,-1 in 2006, 0 in 2007 and -6 in 2008. In addition, we sometimes have several days in a row of single digit lows and highs in the teens. This palm needs protection for the first year or two. Then mulch each year as you would any other planting bed. This plant is adapted to a wide range of conditions. It tolerates heat, moderate dryness, wet areas, shade and has no insect or disease problems here. It likes a south exposure against a house or building. What is most interesting is the lack of winter kill. In the middle of January after winter damage has occured on other hardy palms, the exposed needle palm leaves remain bright green. What a wonderful sight in the winter! I hope to see this plant more in zones 5-6-7.

Positive joegee On Mar 4, 2008, joegee from Bucyrus, OH (Zone 6a) wrote:

This little palm is a trooper! Other than a light covering of leaves in the fall it was given no special siting (high acid location under white pine trees, low moisture, low sunlight.) The leaves that peeked out from under the leaves are as healthy as the leaves that were buried. Hardy? This one survived a very snowy north central Ohio winter with flying colors. Our temps were around normal, although we had nights colder than 0 Fahrenheit here in town.

I will be planting more with the hopes of establishing a blooming / seeding population. This is a lovely little plant that seems to *like* conditions that other plants find challenging. Temperature does not seem to be a limiting factor.

Positive Hikaro_Takayama On Feb 12, 2007, Hikaro_Takayama from Fayetteville, PA (Zone 6b) wrote:

Another good hardy palm for the NE... I have 4, and all survived this past winter (with lows down to around zero on two nights, with two weeks of freezing weather accompanying them) with little or no damage.... Even my 2 year old seedlings that I got from Tony Avent are undamaged... the only damage any sustained is that one of my larger plants had a half-opened leaf that got burned, otherwise they are all fine. I even have heavy clay soil, and planted these plants in the woods, with no other protection than som leaf and shredded hardwood mulch.

Just one word to the wise: If you get any small plants (seedlings or less than 1 gallon size), protect them from rabbits, as rabbits WILL eat the tender strap leaves of young plants.... Once the leaves have reached maturity, the rabbits will leave them alone (both my seedlings lost about 50-75% of their leaves to hungry rabbits).

Positive bed24 On Nov 17, 2006, bed24 from Denver, CO (Zone 5b) wrote:

I am going into the third New Hampshire winter with my needle palm and I just put it to bed until next spring. This palm really is special for its ability to handle cold temperatures, although there are some absolutely necessary steps if you want to grow one well outside of its range - as I do.

1. Location: My palm is planted in an extremely protected spot on the south side of my house that is cornered between a deck and foundation. It's a good spot to keep it warmer in the winter and also make sure that it gets the very hot temperatures that it needs to put on new growth in the summer.

2. Soil: In this spot the soil is naturally loose and sandy, but it's important to make sure that the soil is extremely well-drained during the winter so that the crown and roots do not rot.

3. Winter Protection: I am certain to keep my palm well-watered into November and then around Thanksgiving treat it with Wilt-Pruf to protect the leaves from desiccation during the winter. Shortly after treating with Wilt-Pruf, I surround the plant with a pile of leaves and then cover the pile with some poultry netting (staked into the ground) to keep everything in place.

Around late March I remove the netting and leaves.

So far this has worked very well for two winters, with only minor leaf burn during the one winter that the temperature dipped to -10F for two nights. The only problem that I forsee is that since there is basically no annual dieback, and the palm keeps growing larger, protecting it in this fashion will become more difficult. The upside to that situation, however, could be that palms are supposed to become far more cold hardy with age and size.

If you're wishing for a palm in a cold climate, I'd say give it a shot. It works for me in Northern New England!

Neutral Denis_BC On Jul 3, 2005, Denis_BC from Victoria
Canada wrote:

Probably the toughest palm out there. It is not common in the PNW but it is hardy. The most northerly specimens (North America) that do well are in British Columbia. Rare find but some are sold in Vancouver from US sources. Slow compared to Trachys. I assume that they are slower here than the US southeast. I'm under the impression that Sabal minor is faster than the Needle palm. BTW, I like Bob's palm pics.

Positive estiva On Nov 20, 2004, estiva from Grafton, WI wrote:

I am attempting "round two" of my needle palm experiment. I live in SE Wisconsin, (5b). In 2002, I casually planted a small needle palm on the east side of my house, with NO protection. Well, it didn't make it. One reason is that I didn't get it into the ground until July, and we didn't have much snow cover that year.

This year I planted two needles on the SOUTH side of my house in late April (next to my musa basjoos), and had decent growth all summer.

They still look very good (November 20th, I know it's early-down to only 28F so far), and I plan to mulch and cover with opaque ventilated plant covers over the next 2-3 winters until established.

I've also got a small, heavily protected Trachycarpus Fortunei in the same location.

I'll follow-up in Spring '05: both dead.

Update March 2006:

I decided togo heavy-duty. Planted 1 Needle Palm in a wooded area, using a semi-transparent bucket with dead grass as insulation, as well as snowfall.

This one has survived our minimum low this winter of -14F(that's minus 14F) with about 40% leave burn. However the spear is very much alive and looks great. I think that is impressive, especially considering the size of the plant and this being its first year in-ground.

Lesson learned: heavily protect from winter sun and wind, and mulch, especially first year.

More updates to follow......

Positive dsimcha On Aug 20, 2004, dsimcha from Middlesex, NJ wrote:

Yes, we really do grow these things in zone 6b. I tried a very small sapling-size palm with only 6 leaves going into winter, and less than a foot high. Given its lack of establishment, some slight protection was in order. I used oak leaves to insulate the soil all winter and when the cold spells hit, I threw some oak leaves on top of the whole thing and put a flower pot on top of it. I had about 70% leaf burn and lost the spear but it is coming back and has grown 2 new leaves as of August. These new leaves are much thicker and stiffer than the old ones and the palm is becoming better established and should be able to survive with much less damage this winter. By the way, my minimum temp was -1 fahrenheit.

Positive aviator8188 On Jul 12, 2004, aviator8188 from Murphysboro, IL (Zone 7a) wrote:

The Needle Palm is the most impressing of any plant in my opinion. Not only is it the hardiest palm tree in the world, it is attractive with a unique appearence. I currently have three needle palms growing in my garden in southern Illinois(USDA zone 7a). Planted on the south side of my house, it is extremely cold hardy showing little damage through an entire winter. If mulched heavily in zone 7, very little if any leaf burn occurs. Although it is a slow grower, the Needle Palm is well worth the wait. Native populations of Needle Palm's can be seen off the road underneath Live Oaks and Spanish Moss in southern Georgia, and off interstate 10 in northern Florida! I enjoy the clumping form of the Needle Palm. I believe it adds a "deep south" look to your northern garden. The Needle would grow well in zone 6 and excellent in zones 7-10!

Neutral patischell On Mar 15, 2004, patischell from Fort Pierce, FL (Zone 10a) wrote:

The Florida Nurserymen and Growers Association has just chosen this plant to be one of it's "Plant of the Year" This program was established in 1998 by the FNGA to promote underused but proven plant material. For a plant to be considered a Florida Plant of the Year, it must have good pest resistance, require reasonable care and be fairly easy to grow.

Positive paul_cincinnati On Oct 12, 2003, paul_cincinnati from Cincinnati, OH wrote:

There is an established needle palm that is growing on the campus of the College of Mt. St Joseph in Delhi Township, Ohio (a southwestern suburb of Cincinnati). It has proved to be bone hardy as it has gone through at least 3 winters with minimal leaf burn and no other observable damage; in fact, it bloomed in the Spring of 2003.

Needle palms can be seen occasionally around the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky area but aren't common. Several other "warm climate" plants grow very well in this area (Southern Magnolia, mimmosa, crape myrtle, aucuba, hardy orange, cannas, etc) even though many people think that they can not survive; I personally think the Cincinnati area has a warm climate anomaly as there are many "subtropical"-ish plants that are very hardy in this area but don't seem to be quite as hardy further north or south of this area; actually, plant success seems to be relative to proximity to the Ohio River and to Cincinnati proper, the closer a plant is to both the better it does. There are probably several variables involved- himidity, elevation difference, protection provided by the hills which seem to be North to South oriented thus broviding a bit of a wind baffle from Artic blasts, humidity, urban heat island, etc. Needle palms are wonderful plants and are a touch of the tropics for those of us living nearer to the North pole than the equator. It is too bad that more people (and nurseries) aren't aware of the great hardiness of this palm.

Positive MJHCinOH On Jul 28, 2003, MJHCinOH from Cincinnati, OH wrote:

I have experimented with several "hardy" palms, and this is the only one I've kept that seems worth growing this far north. I've managed to keep several small scrub palmettos alive for several years with mulching, but they never developed into attractive specimens, and were lost the first year I didn't make an effort to mulch and protect. Not so with the needle palm. I've mulched and protected it the first year, but it's survived the last few years with minimal protection, very little damage, and has become fuller and more atractive each year. I'm also aware of several other specimens in Cincinnati that have been established for several years. Definitely the best "hardy" palm to try for experimenters in the north part of the range.

Positive palmbob On Jul 16, 2003, palmbob from Acton, CA (Zone 8b) wrote:

The 'TRUE' Needle Palm (only one called Needle Palm that's actually a palm) is the most cold hardy of all the palms in the world. It grows even in Washington DC. It's not a majestic palm or anything, but if groomed well can make a very attractive addition to most gardens. At first it grows quite symmetrically, from a single stem and looks a lot like a small Chinese Windmill Palm (Trachycarpus). But as it ages, suckers start to appear around it's edges, and, with time, it can form a formidable thicket. And the name Needle Palm is apt as it has many very long (up to 8") needle like projections arising around its base in a whorl pointing up. Though the 'needles' aren't as vicious as in many other palms, they are nonetheless spiny and can make removing seed or pruning a tricky procedure. Seeds are produced yearly in the spring, but are usually only fertile if fertilized by another Needle palm (dioecious)... occasionally ripe seed seems to form on a lone plant.


This plant has been said to grow in the following regions:

Tuxtla Gutiérrez, (2 reports)
Decatur, Alabama
Ozark, Alabama
Encino, California
Reseda, California
South Lyme, Connecticut
Stamford, Connecticut
Dover, Delaware
Rehoboth Beach, Delaware
Wilmington, Delaware (2 reports)
Washington, District Of Columbia
Auburndale, Florida
Bartow, Florida
Brandon, Florida
Cape Coral, Florida
Daytona Beach, Florida
Havana, Florida
Miami, Florida
Orlando, Florida
Pensacola, Florida
Augusta, Georgia
Macon, Georgia
Chicago, Illinois
Murphysboro, Illinois
Plainfield, Indiana
Fort Madison, Iowa
Lawrence, Kansas
Louisville, Kentucky
Taylorsville, Kentucky
Tiline, Kentucky
Union, Kentucky
New Orleans, Louisiana
Centreville, Maryland
Preston, Maryland
Silver Spring, Maryland (2 reports)
Lawrence, Massachusetts
Pembroke, Massachusetts
Detroit, Michigan
Exeter, New Hampshire
Middlesex, New Jersey
Brooklyn, New York
Roslyn, New York
Raleigh, North Carolina
Sunset Beach, North Carolina
Winston Salem, North Carolina
Amherst, Ohio
Bucyrus, Ohio
Cincinnati, Ohio (4 reports)
Jay, Oklahoma
Stillwater, Oklahoma
Belle Vernon, Pennsylvania
Greencastle, Pennsylvania
Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania
Beaufort, South Carolina (3 reports)
Bluffton, South Carolina (2 reports)
Conway, South Carolina
Florence, South Carolina
Hilton Head Island, South Carolina
Leesville, South Carolina
Lexington, South Carolina (3 reports)
Liberty Hill, South Carolina
Little Mountain, South Carolina
Lugoff, South Carolina
Lydia, South Carolina
North, South Carolina
Sumter, South Carolina
Knoxville, Tennessee
Austin, Texas
Comfort, Texas
Mc Kinney, Texas
Mcallen, Texas
San Antonio, Texas
Mechanicsville, Virginia
Roanoke, Virginia
Kent, Washington
Shoreline, Washington
Martinsburg, West Virginia
Grafton, Wisconsin

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