Barbados silver palms hold compact crowns atop a tall graceful trunks.
The graceful Barbados silver palm has an open crown of fan-shaped (palmate) leaves that are green on topsides and silvery-white on the undersides. The leaves often rotate when the wind blows, creating beautiful alternating patterns of green and silvery white. Silver palm leaves are about 40 in (102 cm) across and there are 36-60 leaflets in each leaf. The middle leaflets are about 25-30 in (63.5-76.2 cm) long. Silver palm has a slender, cylindrical trunk which gets 8-50 ft (2.4-15.2 m) tall and 2-7 in (5.1-17.8 cm) in diameter. Most of the trunk is bare, but usually there are some thick black fibers on the upper trunk area, just below the leaves. Silver palm blooms in the summer with a dense and multi-flowered inflorescence consisting of 3-10 branches bearing white flowers. In winter, silver palm may produce as many as 1300 bunches of round purple-black fruits from 0.25-3 in (0.6-7.6 cm) in diameter. Each bunch may weigh 2 pounds (0.9 kg), which means an adult silver palm may produce 2600 pounds (1179 kg) of fruit! The seeds within the fruits are unusual in that each has six or more narrow, branched grooves.
Barbados silver palm occurs naturally in Puerto Rico, Trinidad, Tobago, the Virgin Islands, Venezuela (Margarita Island) and the Windward and Leeward islands (Antigua, Barbados, Barbuda, Dominica, Guadeloupe, Marie Galante, Martinique, St. Lucia). In the wild, silver palm grows in coastal forests and scrub woodlands on limestone soils from sea level to 2000 ft (610 m) elevation.
Silver palm grows best in tropical regions and needs a sunny position in well-drained soil. A slow grower in its native state, silver palm responds very well to regular applications of palm fertilizer. Silver palm grows well in limestone and sandy soils.
Light: Silver palms thrive in full sun. Small silver palms make good indoor plants and require bright, though indirect light. Moisture: Silver palms do best on well drained, alkaline soils with frequent watering. Hardiness: USDA Zones 9 - 12. Mature and established silver palms can tolerate temperatures down to 26ºF (-3.3ºC) Juvenile silver palms need protection during freezing temperatures. Propagation: By seeds. Viable silver palm seeds are reported to germinate in three months or more.
A group of silver palms make a spectacular sight as they reach for the sky at the Fairchild Tropical Garden in Miami, Florida.
The tall and graceful silver palm is perfect for lining streets, driveways and boulevards. Use silver palm in natural and formal groupings and groves in large, open areas. Young plants can be grown in containers and give a tropical look to decks, patios and porches. Young silver palms also can be grown indoors in atriums or conservatories that have bright light. The silver palm is a good choice for planting in limestone-rich and calcareous soils. Silver palm should not be planted under power lines as it can grow up to 50 ft (15.2 m) tall.
Silver palm's graceful leaves appear to wink from green to silvery-white and back to green as they twist and twirl in a gentle breeze. In some of its natural habitats, overcollecting and land clearing are driving Barbados silver palm to near extinction. Silver palm gets its generic name from a combination of the Latin word for berry (coccus), and the Greek word, Thrinax, meaning fan. The species name of barbadensis recognizes the island of Barbados.