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How far North do Palm Trees Survive? Maps Pictures and Answers

Updated on February 27, 2015

Irish Palms are Smiling

Yucca plants growing near Cork, Ireland.
Yucca plants growing near Cork, Ireland.
Dublin Ireland's famous Palm Juania Australis
Dublin Ireland's famous Palm Juania Australis

Palms-Palmettos

Growing up on the East Coast, I would see Palms every winter when we'd head south on vacation. I don't remember seeing Palms north of Virginia Beach. Inland, I would see palms in Columbia SC, but not in Charlotte. Later in life I traveled Europe and literally stumbled upon a palmetto while hiking in Switzerland, much to my surprise. I remember thinking, hey, these things aren't supposed to grow here! There are still glaciers sliding about this country!

More recently, I stumbled upon a palmetto in Manhattan, not too far from the U.N. building. Then I saw another one in Battery Park. So I researched the topic, and am thinking of growing one here in northern Ohio based on what I learned.

Dude- you like grass, man? I'm of course talking about palm trees. What did you think I was talking about, maaaaannnnn?
Dude- you like grass, man? I'm of course talking about palm trees. What did you think I was talking about, maaaaannnnn?
Sabal Palmetto near Cork and Kerry Ireland
Sabal Palmetto near Cork and Kerry Ireland

Palm Reading

Palms trees aren't trees, or even bushes, technically they are grasses. There are hundreds of different types, with the larger, taller, skinnier, varieties thriving in the warmest climes. Coconut trees grow in Hawaii and southern Florida up to Melbourne and Sarasota along the coastlines. The ones with fan-blade leaves that hug the ground appearing more like bushes, with thicker trunks and smaller fruits can handle cold weather better. Chief among the cold-hardy varieties is the Needle Palm, with the cabbage palmetto (sable palmetto) running a close second. Hardy from zone 8 to 12 - a large Sabal palmetto has survived - 6 F in zone 7 Knoxville, Tennessee. It is reported to survive in Ocean City, Maryland but struggling

Click thumbnail to view full-size
You can see where Coconut Palms grow these days. In 2064, will this map be obsolete?Everyday palms in backwater India. It's beautiful to me. Imagine, though, all the venomous creepy crawlies you can't see that must be there... waiting for you. Ugh.Royal Palms are my personal favorite among all the varieties. Majestic and Regal.I grow palms in high places where the whiskey drowns and the beer chases...Levitate yourself and hug a palm this Arbor Day!A snowy Sabal Palmetto in North Carolina.A Phoenix canariensis growing by the seafront in Southsea (U.K) in 1997That same one in 2012 in Southsea (U.K.)
You can see where Coconut Palms grow these days. In 2064, will this map be obsolete?
You can see where Coconut Palms grow these days. In 2064, will this map be obsolete?
Everyday palms in backwater India. It's beautiful to me. Imagine, though, all the venomous creepy crawlies you can't see that must be there... waiting for you. Ugh.
Everyday palms in backwater India. It's beautiful to me. Imagine, though, all the venomous creepy crawlies you can't see that must be there... waiting for you. Ugh.
Royal Palms are my personal favorite among all the varieties. Majestic and Regal.
Royal Palms are my personal favorite among all the varieties. Majestic and Regal.
I grow palms in high places where the whiskey drowns and the beer chases...
I grow palms in high places where the whiskey drowns and the beer chases...
Levitate yourself and hug a palm this Arbor Day!
Levitate yourself and hug a palm this Arbor Day!
A snowy Sabal Palmetto in North Carolina.
A snowy Sabal Palmetto in North Carolina.
A Phoenix canariensis growing by the seafront in Southsea (U.K) in 1997
A Phoenix canariensis growing by the seafront in Southsea (U.K) in 1997
That same one in 2012 in Southsea (U.K.)
That same one in 2012 in Southsea (U.K.)

Notable Palms of the North

Long Island, NY is the home of this 45-year old patch of palms. They must cover them in winter to survive.
Long Island, NY is the home of this 45-year old patch of palms. They must cover them in winter to survive.
These palms do OK in Virginia with no help.
These palms do OK in Virginia with no help.
Here's an example of a palm in Canada, it's grown in a pot or covered in winter with a heater.
Here's an example of a palm in Canada, it's grown in a pot or covered in winter with a heater.
Palms near Cork, Ireland are as common as a pint o'Guiness
Palms near Cork, Ireland are as common as a pint o'Guiness
Southern Irish Coastal lands host Sabal Palms and these large Yuccas.
Southern Irish Coastal lands host Sabal Palms and these large Yuccas.

Where Palms Could Grow One Zone Warmer

There are a few ways palms could grow in colder areas.

  1. Warming trends continue and Palms grow naturally further "north"
  2. Local areas of warmth from concentrations of heat whether natural or artificial.
  3. Genetic changes or new hybrids allow hardier versions to permeate in previously un-palmed areas.
  4. Changes of wind and/or ocean currents (a likely effect of the first way)
  5. Changes of plate tectonics and/or elevations (slowly or catastrophically)

Some people have an aversion to palms growing in non-coastal subtropical and especially temperate regions. I've seen neighbors in Charlotte, NC chide homeowners for planting palms as if they lived near the coast. Oh the horror, sounds like the makings of neighborhood association at the grassroots level.

Now that you've caught your breath after that knee-slapper, I'd like you to consider my viewpoint. Let the palms grow where people want them, freeeeeedom!

Those who try to restrict such freedoms shall hereafter be known as spigots, stupid gardening bigots. Their brand of zoneism is not welcome in the North. There zone-ist views should wither on the vine in the backwoods of the rural South.

These zone-ophobes are afraid that confusion will ensue from the ill-appropriation of palms. People will, they fear, get lost when stepping off a plane or bus in NY at the sight of a palm. The confusion may lead to anger, rioting, and civil unrest. I've seen the rage in the eyes of a Floridian at the sight of a palm tree in Ireland. They feel that palms just don't belong there. Well, I say, who are they to decide?

I believe we should judge a garden on the context of it's character, not the notions of its native zone. It's not like a palm is going to be an invasive species in the North. Also, if some freakish disease would kill off all the palms in the tropics, having some plants in the North would preserve the genetic information from extinction.

The Southerners have no idea how therapeutic it can be to sit under a palm tree in a greenhouse or mall during the winter up here. Familiarity and contempt must not overpower the fondness we Northerners have for these beautiful plants.

Island in the Sun

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  • Melissa A Smith profile image

    Melissa A Smith 3 years ago from New York

    Hi, the plants in your first picture appear not to be palm trees, but some kind of yucca. The same thing in your last photo. I'm sure a few palms can grow in Ireland. The trunked yucca shows they must have a moderate climate. I'm sure they can easily support sabal palms with special care.