Nothing says “exotic” better than palms, with their tall, swaying trunks and feathery or fan-shaped leaves, interesting flowers and fruit. Though most are frost-sensitive tropical plants, several dozen grow well in Florida, along the Gulf Coast, through the Southwest and up the West Coast. A surprising number grow well inland, even where temperatures dip well below freezing, and still others do fine as container plants for gardeners everywhere.

Fan palm

Fan palm is one of the best for general use.

Photo Credit: Felder Rushing

Dwarf palmetto palm

Dwarf palmetto is perfect as an understory shrub.

Photo Credit: Felder Rushing

Palmetto palm

Palmetto palm is a cold-hardy selection.

Photo Credit: Felder Rushing

Here are just a few of the more popular frost-hardy palms – there has to be a spot in your garden or home for at least one!

Cabbage palm (Sabal palmetto)

Florida’s official state tree is a sturdy native with tall, straight trunks reaching 50 or more feet. It grows well as single specimen, but is very showy in groups, or as a screen or hedge. Older fronds drop naturally, leaving attractive bases. This palm’s “heart” is edible, and can be cooked like cabbage.

Chinese fan palm (Livistona chinensis)

This somewhat slow-growing palm reaches to about 30 feet tall, with strikingly bright green, roundish leaves up to 6 feet wide with drooping tips. It’s hardy to about 15 degrees F, with protection from sudden deep freezes. Seed is a pretty deep blue-green.

Date palm (Phoenix dactylifera)

This is the classic “desert oasis” palm, with tall trunks to 70 or 80 feet and long, slightly arching fronds of stiff, pointed leaflets. It often grows in small clumps with several trunks from basal suckers and bears the “dates” you find in markets. The upper trunk is patterned with short stalks of old leaves. Date palm can recover from freezes into the lower teens.

Dwarf palmetto (Sabal minor)

Hardy to well-below 0 degrees F, this Southeastern native is perfect for use as an understory shrub in shade, but it can also hold up well in full sunlight. Its stout underground trunk sprouts large palmate leaves on long sturdy stems, often reaching 8 or 10 feet high and nearly as wide. It tolerates heavy, wet soils.

Fan palm (Chamaerops humilis)

At 10-15 feet tall, this medium-height specimen palm is one of the best for general use. Its 2-foot palmate fronds and stout, multistemmed clumping effect make it suitable as an accent, screen or even potted plant for patios or decks. It tolerates down to around 15 degrees F for short periods of time.

Jelly or Pindo palm (Butia capitata)

Hardy to 5 degrees F, this palm makes a fine landscape specimen, focal point or street planting – one of the best for under power lines. It’s slow-growing to about 15 feet and can get almost as wide, with arching, fernlike fronds. Some selections have somewhat blue-green leaves. The yellow or red fruit is edible and can be made into jelly.

Needle Palm (Rhapidophyllum hystrix)

Similar in appearance to the coarser dwarf palmetto, this Southeastern native is very slow-growing to 8 or so feet tall and nearly as wide, with dark green palmate leaves. It’s a very good palm for use as an understory in the shade, for massing around buildings or even for erosion control, including in moderately cold climates – it can tolerate well-below zero degrees F.

Sago (Cycas revoluta)

While not a true palm, this dinosaur-era relative is very popular. It has deep green, glossy foliage produced in whorls around a center “cone” that’s either male or female; its orange fruit is very attractive. Multiple “pups” growing around the main plant give a fuller effect. Scale insects are a problem, but the stunning, compact plant will tolerate short drops into the lower 20s, or it can be brought indoors if grown in a container.

Saw palmetto (Serenoa repens)

Another hardy Southeastern native, this small clump-forming palm only gets around 6 or so feet tall and wide, and is perfectly adapted to many soil types. The starkly divided palmate leaves have sharp “needles” on the tips of each petiole – so be careful with this one beside patios and along walks. A silver-blue form is much preferred by landscapers and home gardeners alike.

Washington palm (Washingtonia robusta)

Sometimes called Mexican fan palm, this fast-growing, single-trunk giant with showy, creamy-white flowers can reach 80-90 feet, quickly outgrowing its space in a typical home landscape. Overlapping old leaf stalks give the trunk an interesting pattern and provide a place for ferns, bromeliads and other plants to grow. It’s hardy to well-below freezing.

Windmill palm (Trachycarpus fortunei)

Hardy to below the teens for short periods, this is perhaps the hardiest “tree” palm of all – even north of Atlanta, GA, when protected. This single-trunk palm has bright green, palmate fronds atop a trunk covered with dense, brown, hairy fibers. Commonly used as a specimen or accent either in the ground or in planters, it grows moderately fast, eventually reaching 20 or more feet tall.