Common Names: Formosa palm, Taiwan sugar palm, dwarf sugar palm,
Taiwan arenga palm
Family: Arecacea/Palmae (palm Family)
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Palm Attracts Birds Can be Grown in Containers Has Ornamental
(non-edible) Fruit Has evergreen foliage Has Unusual or Interesting
Arenga engleri, the Formosa palm, radiates a tropical beauty and is
considered to be among the finest landscape and cultivated palms.
This attractive clumping palm rarely grows more than 10 ft (3.1 m)
tall with a stem diameter of 6 in (15.2 cm) and a spread up to 16 ft
(4.9 m). The stems are cloaked with delicate black fibers. The
Formosa palm has long graceful triangular fishtail-shaped (pinnate)
leaves up to eight feet long. The dark olive-green leaves often
twist gracefully, giving them a slight spiraling appearance.
Leaflets spring from the midrib of each thornless stem, and are
dark-green to olive on their topside, and silvery beneath. The 5-8
in (12.7-20.3 cm) long leaflets have an unusual and distinctive V
(induplicate) cross-section and grow abundantly in a single plane
off the stems.
The spikelike flower stalks are borne among the leaves and have
both male and female flowers, so a single Formosa palm can produce
fertile seeds by itself. The red, orange or green flowers have a
sweet fragrance and produce red to deep purple fruits. Each globular
fruit is less than 1 in (2.5 cm) in diameter and contains one to
The Formosa palm is native to islands south of Japan, including
Taiwan (Formosa) and the Ryukyu Islands. It also has been reported
from India. The Formosa palm occurs on slopes in dense forests.
In its native environment, the Formosa palm enjoys moist soil and is
tolerant of poor soils that have good drainage. The Formosa palm
thrives in rich, humusy and slightly acidic soils. For best results,
the soil should be kept uniformly moist, not wet, and should have
excellent drainage. The Formosa palm responds exceptionally well to
applications of fertilizer and can grow reasonably quickly to a
magnificent landscape subject. Formosa palm is not tolerant of salt,
salt spray or high winds.
Light: The Formosa palm does well in semi-shade lighting. Some
enthusiasts also report excellent success with Formosa palms in
sunny, sheltered gardens. Smaller Formosa palms need protection from
Moisture: Formosa palm thrives in rich soils that are thoroughly
moist and have excellent drainage. The Formosa palm is not drought
Hardiness: USDA Zones 8B - 11. The Formosa palm is considered
extraordinarily adaptable and easy to cultivate. Mature and
established plants can tolerate temperatures down to about 15- 25ºF
(-9.4 - -3.9ºC)for short periods. To ensure maximum cold hardiness
it is recommended that the Formosa palm be planted in a protected
understory. The small size of the Formosa palm lends easily to being
planted under a grove of trees or other protection.
Propagation: The Formosa palm is propagated from seeds. Formosa palm
seeds are considered to have maximum viability for germination if
they are planted no more than 4-6 weeks after the fruit has become
ripe. Seeds have a wide range of germination times; some seeds may
germinate very quickly, while others may take two years to sprout!
Propagation also can be accomplished by division and removal of
suckers but these may be slow to establish.
The Formosa palm is undoubtedly one of the best palms to display the
tropical look in subtropical and even temperate climates. It is best
planted in a protected understory. The Formosa palm makes a great
accent as it is considered to embody the tropical look. Formosa palm
displays very well as a potted specimen.
The Formosa palm exudes the essence of the tropical environment.
Traditionally considered a tropical palm, it is remarkable that the
Formosa palm has proven viable for landscapes in both temperate and
sub-tropical climate zones. Formosa palm leaflets have a rare and
distinctive V (induplicate) cross-section. Formosa palms and other
palms of this genus are used to make sugar, starch, wine and fiber.
The species name, engleri honors H.G.A. Engler, the famous German
botanist who collected widely in the tropics. The generic name,
Arenga, is the Latin form of the Javanese or Malay name for a palm
of this genus.
The fruit of the Formosa palm can cause severe allergic reactions in
the skin. Wear gloves when handling fresh fruit or seeds.