Rhapidophyllum hystrix - Needle Palm Tree

The Needle palm is one of the most loved palm trees, according to northerners, due to their remarkable resistance to freezing temperatures. The Needle Palm’s scientific name is Rhapidophyllum hystrix and is a small clumping palm that grows 5 to 8 feet in height with most averaging about 6 feet. The Needle Palm originates from the Northeastern United States but can now be found throughout the country. The needle Palm is easily recognizable by its pointy fronds help up by slender stems which are armed with needle-like spines. The slender stem of the frond reaches between 2 to 3 feet in length. The stem is connected by 8 to 14 leaves, which are dark green with silvery undersides, and can grow 14-22 inches long each leaflet.

Description of Rhapidophyllum hystrix - Needle Palm Tree

Article By Floridata

The needle palm is a terribly talented plant that is beautiful, rugged, extremely cold hardy, fast growing and one of my landscape favorites. Rhapidophyllum hystrix is a small shrubby fan palm that grows to about 6 ft (1.8 m) in height. It produces suckers freely, these multiple stems creating an ever widening rounded clump of indeterminate width. Over time the tightly packed stems will form an impenetrable thicket. The needle palm doesn't form a trunk but instead has a slowly lengthening crown that may grow to about 4 ft (1.2 m) long and about 7 in (17.8 cm) in diameter. The stems are composed of old leaf bases, fiber and long slender spines. They are usually erect but in older clumps they may lean or grow prostrate along the ground as they compete for light and space. As each stem matures, more slender spines grow from from between the leaf attachments. These "needles" are dark brown or black, very slender and sharp and grow from 4-10 in (10-25 cm) long.

Each stem carries about 12 erectly held leaves that are about 4 ft (1.2 m) long. The foliage is glossy deep green on top with a dull silvery white underside. The slender petioles (leaf stems) are smooth and are 2-2.5 ft (0.6-0.8 m) long and 30-36 in (76-91 cm) wide. The fan-shaped leaves are deeply indented with each leaflet 1-2 in (2.5-5 cm) wide and 15-20 in (38-51 cm) long. The tip of each leaflet is bluntly squared off and notched as if trimmed with pinking shears.

The needle palm has a tightly compact inflorescence (flower structure) that is about 6-12 in (15-30 cm) long and held close to the stem, barely peeping above the leaf bases. Obscured by foliage and fiber and protected by the sharp needles it is often not visible without serious effort. Tiny yellow to purplish-brown flowers are held on the inflorescence with male and female flowers borne on separate plants (although hermaphroditic individuals are also reported). This palm flowers irregularly with blooms typically appearing in spring and early summer.

I have observed (and grow) two forms of needle palm that have slight differences in form and foliage. One form is shrubbier, suckers more and has leaves with smaller leaflets that are in greater number. The other tends to sucker less, has larger crowns, with fewer leaves that have fewer, but wider leaflets. I've observed the shrubbier form in North Florida growing on hillsides while the other form seems to be more common in Central Florida where I've observed it growing on flat, moist forest floors.

Needle palm seeds are red to brown and roughly spherical. They are about an 1 in (2.5 cm) in diameter and have a fuzzy fleshy covering. They are protected by the sharp needles and are difficult to access - since animals can't get to them and most die in place.

Quick Description of Rhapidophyllum hystrix - Needle Palm Tree

Article By hardiestpalms

This shrubby, trunkless palm's moniker comes from the vicious needles arising from the fiber at the bases of the leaves. It is probably the cold-hardiest palm and has reportedly survived temperatures as low as -20°F. The needle palm prefers a moist position in sun or shade, but generally requires more sun as latitude increases. They look best, however, when situated in partial shade. When grown in full sun the crown tends to become rather compact and the leaves lose their dark green color. Native to the southeastern US, it is found growing wild from the southern tip of South Carolina to central Florida, and west to southern Mississippi in wooded, swampy areas. Unfortunately, due to habitat distruction and collection of wild specimens coupled with a seed germination time of up to two years and an extremely slow growth rate, this palm is becoming quite rare.

In Detailed Description of The Needle Palm

Article By Wiki Pedia

Rhapidophyllum hystrix (Needle Palm) is a palm, the sole member of the genus Rhapidophyllum. It is native to the southeastern United States, from central Florida to Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina and Alabama. It is one of the most cold-hardy palms in the world.

The Needle Palm assumes a shrublike clumping form with several stems growing from a single base, the stems growing very slowly and tightly together, eventually forming a dense base 1–1.2 m (3.3–3.9 ft) tall, with numerous sharp needle-like spines produced between the leaves; these are 10–25 cm (3.9–9.8 in) long and protect the stem growing point from browsing animals. The whole plant can reach 2–3 m (6.6–9.8 ft) tall to the top of the erect central leaves. It is a fan palm (Arecaceae tribe Corypheae), with the leaves with a long petiole terminating in a rounded fan of 8–16 leaflets; each leaf is up to 2 m (6.6 ft) long, with the leaflets up to 60–80 cm (24–31 in) long. The flowers are borne in dense, short clusters at the top of the stems; it is usually dioecious with male and female flowers on separate plants. The fruit is a brown drupe about 2 cm (0.79 in) long.

The scientific name Rhapidophyllum means "needle-leaf", while hystrix is from the scientific name of a genus of porcupines. The English name likewise refers to the needle-like spines produced at the petiole bases; for similar reasons, it is also occasionally called "porcupine palm".

Cultivation and uses of the Rhapidophyllum hystrix - Needle Palm Tree

Article By Wiki Pedia

The Needle Palm is very popular among palm enthusiasts in temperate climates for its extraordinary ability to tolerate cold. Some reports have claimed survival of temperatures as low as −29°C, although more realistic estimates are approximately −15° to −21°C. A large, well-established specimen has been growing without protection at the United States National Arboretum in Washington, D. C. since the 1960s, a specimen at the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens has been flourishing for years, and there are several specimens thriving in the Greater Cincinnati area where extensive published research has been led by Miami University, Ohio. However, unlike the related Trachycarpus species, Needle Palms need hot, humid summer temperatures to thrive and the species does not grow well in the Pacific Northwest. It is, however, becoming one of the most popular palms for planting in the Chesapeake Bay area of Maryland and Virginia, as well as the Outer Banks of North Carolina. It grows far north as coastal parts of the New York area without protection, specifically Connecticut (see range map), and somewhat farther north (New England) with protection.

The Needle Palm is considered to be commercially exploited and therefore threatened. When purchasing this palm, it is wise to purchase it only from a reputable dealer, as some unscrupulous dealers harvest them directly from the wild.

Actual Ideal Usages of the Rhapidophyllum hystrix in Your Garden

Article By Floridata

The needle palm is a perfect, low maintenance plant that makes an excellent specimen plant for small spaces near the patio or entryways. In the shade garden the needle palm provides a rich green backdrop of flowering plants and it blends beautifully with azaleas and camellias in the filtered light under a high canopy of pine.

Mass plantings of needle palm can also serve as security hedges. The thick growth and lethal needle form and impenetrable barrier that will deter most creatures, especially human.

Established plants are drought tolerant and are perfect for shady xeriscape plantings. Surprisingly the needle palm is also happy to grow in wet soils and can even survive flooding and standing water. Use near ponds and streams and swampy forests. Needle palm is also useful around swimming pools where it's clean habit and ability to take continual splashes with chlorinated water make it a good choice although don't plant too close to walkways so passersby aren't pricked by the nasty needles.

Being one of (possibly the) most cold hardy palms, gardeners in cooler places can add this pretty palm to their plant palettes. It won't successfully grow in places where the ground often freezes, but in locations like Atlanta, Georgia; Portland, Oregon and Vancouver, British Columbia the needle palm can be planted in protected areas to everyone's evergreen delight!

The needle palm grows happily in containers and although not often seen used as such, it is durable enough to grow indoors if you have the space to accommodate it.

Plantings of needle palm are able to trap and "swallow" fallen leaves and other debris. There's no raking and this "automulching" further reduces maintenance - I told you this was a talented palm!

Needle Palm Tree Home

The Needle palm finds its home in a wide range of soils as long as it drains well. The Needle Palm enjoys partial to light shaded areas which is deal for undergrowth placement for larger trees like oak and pine trees. The Needle Palm Tree is graded by the United Stated Department of Agriculture for zones 8 through 10, however they are just guidelines. The Needle Palm is known for withstanding freezing temperatures, but care is still considered for the overall health and growth of the palm.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is the Needle Palm dangerous?
    No, the Needle Palm is not dangerous. The Needle Palm Tree is armed with spiny needle-like spikes around the stem and trunk area. These areas are hard to get to since the Needle Palm is a clumping Palm. The Needle Palm’s spikes are like any other spikes found outdoors, they should be taken care of immediately so bacteria does not set in.

  • How dangerous is the Needle Palm?
    The Needle Palm is not dangerous at all, unless you intend to jump inside the thicket of needles and roll around in them, then you should be okay. If you are poked with a spike just wash and clean out the area.

  • How tall does the Needle Palm Grow?
    The Needle Palm Tree usually grows about 6 feet tall, but some specimens have been seen at 7 to 8 feet tall.

  • Where does the Needle Palm come from?
    The exact origin of the Needle Palm Tree is unknown but the originating area is the Southeastern United States.

  • Where do I plant the Needle Palm?
    The Needle Palm Tree can be placed in any well draining soil. The Needle Palm Tree can live in full sun but will be dwarfed and might be deficient in color or different areas, ideally the Needle Palm should be used in partial to full shade.

  • Watering a Needle palm, how much do I do?
    The Needle Palm Tree is very tolerant to drought conditions; however it would prefer to be watered three times a week. Depending on the climate which you live, the Needle Palm will not need to be watered ever.

  • Fertilizing a Needle Palm Tree, how do I?
    The Needle Palm is not dangerous at all, unless you intend to jump inside the thicket of needles and roll around in them, then you should be okay. If you are poked with a spike just wash and clean out the area.

  • Type of Fertilizer for Needle Palm Tree, which one?
    The Needle Palm Tree should be fertilized at least once a year for optimum growth, but if you find yourself forgetting, no problem, just fertilize it when you get to it.

  • How much fertilizer do I use for a Needle palm?
    It is very important to read the instruction to the fertilizer which you will be using, each fertilizer has different ingredients and substances that are harmful, not only to the palm, but also to yourself. Take extreme caution when using fertilizer which does not have proper labeling or instructions for use.

  • Seeds of Needle Palm Trees, what do they look like?
    The Needle Palm Seeds are brown furry pods which are about a half to a full inch in size. The brown fur should be removed for proper germination results.
Landscaping with the Needle Palm
The Needle Palm has many uses within landscapes; some popular uses include as hedges for security reasons, around pools for their high tolerance for chlorinated water, and as beautiful green backdrops for large trees. The Needle Palm is also known for its low maintenance and its ability to take care of itself. Along with its high toleration during times of drought, the Needle Palm does not need to be pruned or heavily fertilized. Fertilization of the Needle Palm can be done once a year for optimum growth.
Quick Thought
The Needle Palm Tree has been seen throughout freezing landscapes even to parts of northern New Hampshire. The Needle Palm has been spotted in Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, Nebraska, South Dakota, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia, North and South Carolina, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan and even Vermont. The Needle Palm has quickly became the top selling palm tree along with the Windmill Palm for the Northern United States.
Rhapidophyllum hystrix

Needle Palm Seeds

The Needle Palm grows inflorescent flowers which have the Needle Palm seeds inside. The seeds of the Needle Palm Tree usually take 3 to 6 months to germinate. An easy way to germinate the Needle Palm Seeds is to take a bag and fill it with some soft paper towels. Then put the Needle Palm seeds inside the Paper towels and moisten the towel with water. Place the bag with the Needle Palm Seeds outside in the sunlight and watch them germinate. Sometimes, the water evaporates and the paper towels begin to dry up, just add more water when this happens. Once the Needle Palm Seeds have germinated, place them in vermiculite or potting soil for added growth.


The Needle Palm, also known as the Porcupine Palm, received its name from the visible needle like thorns that stick out from the trunk. These needles hurt but are nor poisonous, it’s said that these needles were stripped from its trunk and used by the American Indians for a way of hunting small critters. The needle would be dabbed by a poisonous frog or snake venom and blown out from a pipe.

Wholesale Needle Palms

The Needle Palm, are available in many places at wholesale prices. The place I recomend for wholesale prices on the needle palm is RealPalmTrees.com, they seem very reputable and have outstanding reviews. All Positive. With out a doubt I would contact them for Wholesale Prices on the Needle Palm.