Windmill Palms, also known as Trachycarpus fortunei, are native to parts of China, Japan, Myanmar, and India. They were smuggled out of China to England by the Scottish botanist Robert Fortune in the 1840’s for Kew Horticultural Gardens and the gardens of Prince Albert of the Royal Family. Windmill Palms were named Trachycarpus fortunei after Robert Fortune.
They are sometimes referred to as Chusan palms after the Island by the same name in China where they are also found. Ŧhese palms are part of the tree family Arecaceae.
Windmill Palms thrive in zones 7-11. They tolerate cool moist summers as well as cold winters, withstanding temperatures down to -5 degrees Celsius. This tolerance for lower temperatures is because they grow naturally in higher altitudes in the mountains of southern China, up to approximately 2400 metres (7900 ft.) above sea level.
They have a single trunk or husk with fronds growing out from the trunk in a windmill fashion. They are slow growing plants averaging about 20 cm to 30 cm a year once they are established. It takes about five years for them to grow into a saleable one-gallon size and once in the ground, they can ultimately reach up to 10 metres in height.
In early summer, Windmill Palms produce male and female flowers on separate plants. Male plants produce yellow flowers and female plants produce green flowers. Later, the flowers of the female plants change to black fruit which ripen in the fall.
Windmill palms require fertile, well draining soil and regular watering. They grow in full sun but prefer partial shade.
It is common practice to remove the lower browning leaves of the palm for a more manicured look; however leaving the lower leaves on, just as they grow in the wild, offers a more natural look. This also bulks up the look of the palm which accentuates and gives a backdrop to the lower plantings of a garden.
Raised beds with large, fractured rocks and carefully situated palms offers a truly awesome eye appeal and can draw people into their gardens.
Windmill Palms are a good investment plant. They can soften prominent corners of a house and bring all season interest and a welcoming feel to the garden landscape.