Young bottle palms are happy living in containers and make great patio plants for those of us who don't live in Zone 10.
The first time I saw a bottle palm I laughed out loud. I was about five years old and on my first vacation trip to Fort Lauderdale. Before me were five little bottle palms arranged within the circular island of a driveway. Presiding over them was a cranky looking garden gnome. With hands on hips and belly protruding the old guy glared at his leafy congregation. The palms, looking like cousins from the less attractive side of his family, grumpily ignored him and each other. Their stumpy fat-bellied trunks leaned ever so slightly making it appear that each was trying to edge as far away from the others as possible. I spent a pleasant afternoon with the gnome and his charges and have maintained a fascination with these kid sized palms to this day.
This little dwarf of a palm will grow slowly to a height of 10-12 ft (3.1-3.7 m). The solitary trunk is grotesquely swollen and looks as if it were cast in smooth grey concrete. The trunk is a rounded bulge in young specimens and gradually elongates and flattens somewhat as the palm matures.
These oldtimer bottle palms can be seen at Miami's Fairchild Tropical Garden.
A small crown consisting of 4 to 8 pinnate (featherlike) leaves sits atop a smooth green crownshaft that connects the leaves to the trunk. The upwardly arching leaves grow to about 10 ft (3.1 m) in length in mature specimens. Leaflets are about 2 ft (0.6 m) long and arranged in two upward pointing rows. The inflorescences emerge at the point where the crownshaft meets the trunk. They grow upward as they mature supporting numerous male and female small white flowers on the same stalk. The female flowers are followed by 1 in (2.5 cm) round fruits which change from green to black as they mature.
Bottle palm is from Round Island, a tiny speck of land in the Indian Ocean which is part of the Mascarene Island group. There are said to be fewer than 15 specimens left in its native habitat, but bottle palm is cultivated for its unique beauty in tropical countries around the world.
Bottle palm can adapt to many soil types as long as they are well drained. Feed with fertilizer three times a year if not grown in rich soil. Light: Bottle palm prefers broken shade. It can take full sun if provided adequate water during dry periods. Moisture: Bottle palm needs good moisture to look its best. Hardiness: USDA Zones 10 - 11. This palm is tender and killed by freezing temperatures. Its cousin, spindle palm (Hyophorbe vershaffeltii), is hardier and can handle some frost and temperatures to about 28 F for short periods. Propagation: Start bottle palm from seeds which take 4-6 months to germinate.
Bottle palm flowers (above) and fruit (below).
This charming little palm is a whimsical sculpture when set out on the lawn as a specimen, especially for small yards where other palms will grow out of scale. Plant bottle palms in containers and feature it in a prominent spot on the patio.
A unique shape, sculptural form and small stature make the bottle palm a great addition to tropical landscapes. Small specimens are readily available from Zone 10 nurseries - gardeners in other zones can obtain this palm from specialty mail order nurseries. The best feature of this garden gnome of a palm is that they still make me chuckle every time I see one.
Jack Scheper 09/07/98; updated 11/23/00, 3/8/04
Copyright 1996 - 2012
Tallahassee, Florida USA