Destinations Magazine

In Praise of the Humble Trachycarpus

By Alternativeeden @markngaz
What would an exotic garden in the UK be without the humble Trachycarpus fortunei?

In Praise of the Humble Trachycarpus

The wonderful and hardy palm, Trachycarpus fortunei

First of all, using the word humble to describe this palm is already doing it a disservice as it is actually a tall growing, potentially imposing, stately, and a very architectural palm.

However, it is also usually maligned for being so 'common'. And being maligned makes it humbled which is very unfair.

In Praise of the Humble Trachycarpus

There are different types of Trachycarpus palms out there with T. fortunei being the hardiest and most popular and T. wagnerianus a very close second on both aspects. This photo was taken at the Palm House Nursery in Devon, a nursery specialising in T. wagnerianus

So what's not to like about this palm when it is:

As stated above: tall growing, stately, and very architectural.

Hardy for most parts of the UK

In Praise of the Humble Trachycarpus

Hardy for most parts of the UK

Relatively fast growing for a palm, more than a foot a year is possible once it is established on the ground, slower when in a pot.

In Praise of the Humble Trachycarpus

Fancy a different look? When it is tall enough you can strip its trunk from its fibrous covering


Leafy and very exotic looking. Equally at home to jungle, xeric, and Mediterranean style of garden.

In Praise of the Humble Trachycarpus

It's a jungle out there!

Solitary trunk. Once it has gained a significant size of trunk and the crown is well above ground you regain precious garden space beneath it for layering and under planting. Or just leave it as it is for a minimalist look.

In Praise of the Humble Trachycarpus

It can be dug up with just a small rootball left and yet survive and transplant successfully into a new location. It will sulk for a year or two of course but afterwards it will carry on growing as usual.

Will grow happily either in full sun or shade and anything else in between. 

Drought tolerant (except in pots) but does appreciate and perform much better when watered generously and fertilised during the growing season.

In Praise of the Humble Trachycarpus

Severely scorched by flames but it carried on producing new growth as normal

Provides a very good backbone and structure to a garden.

Easy, undemanding, reliable.

However, it's own good merits are also the very reason it is often maligned by other exoticists. By being so easy, undemanding, and reliable it is readily available hence 'common'. And by being common, snobbery comes into place by others.

Personally I am so glad, thankful, and appreciative for the existence of this palm and all of its good merits. It's easy enough to focus on what's not existing out there (like a reliably hardy feather palm for a start) but I can't imagine if this palm did not exist at all!

In Praise of the Humble Trachycarpus

It is of course possible to have an exotic garden in the UK without any palm in it. Or even a palm based garden with only a few or no Trachycarpus fortunei in it at all. But you'll have to be in one of the few milder areas in the UK, or have an exceptionally good microclimate, or do loads of protective measures during the winter.

Whenever we visit nurseries it's funny how we still gravitate towards this palm whether it is surrounded by other exotics or not. We don't always buy them of course but good sized ones for a good price the temptation gets very high and resistance becomes weak, just like when we recently went to the Palm Centre.

In Praise of the Humble Trachycarpus

Bargain Trachycarpus fortunei

Sometimes I wander down the garden, looking out for some of our rarer and more unusual plants and thinking of writing a blog post about them. Often I get on such a mindset that I overlook some of our reliable stalwarts, like this palm when they really deserve as much focus as some of the rarer ones. So here I am singing praises for this wonderful palm, a plant we couldn't be without in our exotic garden.

What about you, any plant in particular that is 'common' and yet you couldn't be without in your garden?

Mark :-)

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