Chinese Fan Palms: A Favorite of Mine

Chinese Fan Palms
Simmons Tree Farms

You may think this is a post about growing kale . . . or raised bed gardening . . . . but you’d be wrong. Today, I want to introduce you to and share the reasons that I love Chinese Fan Palms! Those are the two palms you see in the background. They are greatly overlooked and under utilized.

Chinese Fans are part of the Livistonia family – This one is Livistonia chinensis and is native to Japan, Taiwan, and, of course, China. This palm is drought tolerant, moderately salt tolerant, and tolerant of not so great soils. At my home, ours are growing in a heavy clay soil and they handle the muck like champs! Unfortunately Chinese Fans are only cold tolerant to zone 9, which means San Antonio and Houston are their northernmost range in Texas.

A Few Things I Love About Chinese Fans

Chinese Fan Palms

One thing I love most about Chinese Fan Palms is how long the fronds remain green! In the above photo, the fronds are practically touching the trunk and they are still green. You don’t see that very often! I also love the size of the fans. They are a gazillion times larger than our little pup, Trixie.

A second thing I love about Chinese Fan Palms is that they are very uniform growers. If you plant a row that are the same size, they will remain the same size. If you plant a group of different sizes, they will remain different sizes.

A third thing I love about Chinese Fan Palms is that, once they’re established, they are very drought tolerant. With less water they will grow slower and be shorter, but in these times, saving water is so important!

The photo to the left shows a Chinese Fan in a neighbors yard. The house was moved and the lot is now vacant and getting no watering. I took this picture today (September 14th) and just look at all those fronds that are still green! Granted we have had rain for the past three weeks but that was the first real rain of this year. The oldest of those fronds are at least 12-18 months old.

One Thing I’m Not So Crazy About

What I’m not so crazy about is the weight of the ripe seed. At home, I try to remove the seed stems before they ripen. They are crazy heavy so be sure to cut the seed stem while the fruit is still small – or even, right after they bloom. Don’t worry that you’ll be depriving animals of sustenance. The only animal or bird I have EVER seen eat our Chinese Fan seeds are squirrels. And squirrels don’t need any easy food from me.

A second thing I’m not so crazy about is how easily the seeds will sprout. We love self-sowers in many species, but palms that self sow can make for a lot more work for the gardener or landscape company. If you let the seeds mature on the stalk, expect to find quite a few baby Chinese Fans in your planting bed. In fact, Chinese Fans are on the invasive list in Florida and Hawaii because they are popping up in the native habitat. Both Florida and Hawaii have moister habitats than Texas does, so I would be surprised if Chinese Fans misbehaved that way here.

The palm that I circled in blue volunteered when I let the seeds mature and fall naturally. It took me a few years to decide I don’t want it here and now removing it will be a much harder task!

Harvesting Field Grown Chinese Fan Palms

Below is a Chinese Fan after the first step of harvesting. We’ve removed a number of the fronds. Once the root ball has been dug and the palm laid over, the remaining fronds will be cut in half. This lessens the stress to the palm.

Older tree

This is an older tree – ten years in the field – old enough that the bottom of the trunk has begun to get dry and the leaf bases, aka the boots, have fallen from it. For a clean look, Alex has shaved the trunk. For the health of the palm, you only want to clean the trunk until you reach green (live) tissue.

How to Use Chinese Fans in the Landscape

Chinese Fan Palms work nicely planted in groups of 3 or 5. This gives you a nice canopy to plant shade loving plants beneath.

From this vantage, you can just barely see the trunk of the third palm in this grouping.

They are also nice all lined up in a row.

Consider Chinese Fans

Consider Chinese Fans for your next project. They’re easy, beautiful and the perfect scale for most properties.

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Mary Beth

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