The name says it all, Royal Palm! Truly an aristocrat of the plant kingdom, this palm makes a memorable impression wherever it is grown. Massive and symmetrical with a smoothly sculpted trunk this palm looks almost artificial, like a denizen of an idealized Disney landscape. But it is real and lends a distinctive air to parkways and boulevards all over South Florida and the Caribbean. In older references you may see this genus referred to as Oreodoxa but the genus name was changed some years ago to Roystona (in honor of General Roy Stone an army engineer who served in the Caribbean at the turn of the century).
Imported into Florida in great numbers during the the 20's and 30's, the Cuban Royal palm (Roystonea regia) is the species most often encountered. Eight inch long leaflets are arranged in rows along the 10' length of bright green pinnate leaves. Composed of 15 - 20 leaves, the canopy sits atop the crown shaft - a smooth, glossy extension of the trunk composed of the overlapping bases of the leaves.
The trunk of the Cuban Royal Palm (in photo at left) is swollen at the base. It constricts about halfway up and then bulges again just below the crownshaft creating a dramatic profile. The Florida Royal Palm (R. elata - in photo at top) is very similar to the Cuban except that the trunk is a simple column that lacks the Cuban's curvaceous figure.
The trunks of both are a smooth light gray that looks as if it had been cast from concrete. Both species produce a large 3' to 4' inflorescense on which both male and female flowers are borne (see photo below).
The Florida Royal Palm (Roystonea elata) is native to the cypress swamps of south Florida. It is disappearing from the wild but nice stands can still be seen at the Royal Palm Visitors Center near Homestead, Florida in the Everglades National Park. The Cuban Royal Palm (Roystonea regia) is native to Cuba(!)
The Royal Palms are not particular about soil. Light: High light requirements. Likes bright sunny conditions. Moisture:Royals like water and look their best when given adequate amounts. At home in cypress swamps, the Florida Royal Palm tolerates occasional flooding. Likewise, the Cuban hails from the dry hills around Havana and it is somewhat drought tolerant. Hardiness:USDA Zones 10-11. Can survive cold spells down to 28 F if short in duration. Propagation: Grow from the 1/4" purple seeds (the Cuban's tend to be oblong, the Florida Royal's are spherical).
With smooth grey trunks resembling cathedral pillars there is not a more impressive palm with which to line a boulevard. Ranks of Royal Palms lend a distinctly unique look to Miami's Biscayne Boulevard. Roystoneas provide a sophisticated look to thoroughfares throughout the Caribbean. Assembled into a grove on an expanse of lawn, Royal Palms create an eye-catching focal point.
The beautiful Royal is readily available in areas where it can be grown. With a little care (water and fertilizer) this palm will reward with fast growth that is rare for a palm. Being tolerant of salt drift, Royal Palms will grow near salt water and on the beach if set back from the first line of dunes.
Copyright 1996 - 2012
Tallahassee, Florida USA