Common Names: Washington palm, Mexican fan palm
Family: Arecacea/Palmae (palm Family)
Palm Fast Growing Can be Grown in Containers Has evergreen foliage
Has Unusual or Interesting Foliage
These Mexican fan palms guard the entrance to the Jacksonville
(Florida) Zoological Gardens outfitted in the species' signature
Soaring to over 100 ft (30.5 m), this skyscraper of the palm world
is a striking sight when planted at equal intervals along a
boulevard or when snuggled up in groups against high rise buildings.
The gray trunk is ringed with closely set leaf scars although
usually at least part of the trunk remains covered with dead leaves
that hang in a thatch. The solitary trunk, about 10-12 in (25.4-30.5
cm) in diameter, bulges at the ground and becomes slender as it
approaches a crown of large palmate leaves with gracefully drooping
leaflet tips. These are rich glossy green and grow to about 5 ft
(1.5 m) long and 4 ft (1.2 m) wide. They are borne on 3 ft (0.9 m)
orange leaf stems that are edged with vicious sawtooth spines.
As the leaves die, they fall against the trunk to create the
"hula skirt" effect for which this palm is famous. Unfortunately
this shaggy skirt of dead dry leaves is a fire hazard and provides a
home for rats and other undesirable creatures. Many municipalities
in California require that the dead leaves be removed which can be
quite a hassle when they're dangling 80 ft (25 m) up in the air! In
Florida this is not such a problem as the humid climate and
occasional high winds tend to keep the palms skirt-free. Washington
palms in Florida usually do not reach maximum height, tending to get
their crowns blasted off by lightning when they begin to tower over
In early summer large, light beige, branched inflorescences
extend past the leaves growing 7-10 ft (2-3 m) long. These hold
clusters of small whitish flowers that mature into 1/2 in (1.3 m)
black berries that are easy (for a palm) to germinate.
This palm is native to the desert mountain valleys and canyons of
Sonora and Baja Mexico. It is a popular landscape plant in Florida,
California and Arizona and in areas where it is hardy throughout the
Washington palm prefers a moderately rich well drained soil but can
survive on poor soils, even sand.
Light: It does best in bright sunny conditions but Washington palm
will tolerate some shade.
Moisture: Washington palm is drought resistant when established, but
looks better and grows faster when given adequate moisture.
Hardiness: USDA Zones 9-11. Washington palm is hardy down to about
20ºF but foliage will be damaged at that temperature.
Propagation: Propagate by seeds, which will germinate within 2
Mexican fan palm
Washingtonia palms are durable and stately and work well in street
plantings that create a dramatic effect.
Use the Washington palm for formal groupings, street plantings, and
groves in large open areas - these are the palms planted along
Venice Beach and other California beaches. Young plants can be grown
in containers and give a tropical look to patios and decks. This
palm should only be used in large open areas - it is NOT a good palm
for residences with small yards.
Washington palm has many fine attributes including salt resistance
and fast rate of growth. This palm is inexpensive, easy to
transplant and easy to find. It is available from nurseries, home
centers and discount garden stores. It is becoming one of the
commercial landscaper's favorite palms - appearing in startling
numbers along Florida's urban freeways, and in commercial and
The California Washingtonia (Washingtonia filifera) is very
similar but has a stockier, more massive trunk and is said to be
somewhat more cold tolerant.