Exploring the Umbrella Palm

Somehow two species of palm, neither looking anything like the other, acquired the appellation Umbrella. One needs to ferret out the Latin or botanical name for each of these palms to begin the differentiation process. The Umbrella Palm tree, botanists have named Hedyscepe canterburyana; the Umbrella Palm shrub or sedge plant, Cyperus alternifolius or Cyperus involucratus. With that bit of scientific jargon out of the way, a brief description of the two kinds of palm will make things a lot more clear.

The Umbrella Palm tree resembles many other familiar palm trees in shape, size, coloration and display of foliage. It grows to a height of about 30 feet, or ten meters. The trunk displays prominent growth rings around its circumference. The Umbrella Palm’s fronds create a thick canopy of overhanging leaves at the top. The Umbrella Palm’s fruit, in season, hangs near the trunk in large clusters of ripe red harvest.

The Umbrella Palm tree, native to Lord Howe Island, situated between Australia and New Zealand, thrives in subtropical climates. The tree requires a mildly cool subtropical or warm temperate environment. With this climatological background and a rich, loamy soil, the Umbrella Palm tree makes an excellent showpiece planting in large gardens or arboretums. If acquired as a seedling, the plant takes several years to mature, needing protection from the sun for the first half dozen seasons. Anyone who would enjoy having an Umbrella Palm in the backyard might well consider starting the plant indoors in a fairly large container. Make sure the growing plant has plenty of light, even temperatures and adequate water.

The Umbrella Palm treelet or shrub planting presents an entirely different set of characteristics from the Umbrella Palm tree. For one thing, most of these palms grow to less than six feet in height, making them an excellent choice as pond side accent plants or indoor conversation pieces when grown in small containers. If indoor or outdoor areas lack in sufficient space, the dwarf variety, which grows to a height of less than four feet, may prove the preferred choice. As the Umbrella Palm plant matures, it produces a wealth of thin bladed leaves or fronds that spread out into an umbrella-like top.

Because the Umbrella Palm self propagates, keeping one in a container, whether outside or indoors, restrains the plant from spreading out of control. The warmer the average temperature, the more likely spreading will occur. Due to its proclivity for a tropical environment, the Umbrella Palm plant can survive in a variety of soil conditions, from boggy marshes to well drained loam, with a minimum of hands on attention.

Umbrella Palm plants originated in Madagascar and thrive in just about any tropical or subtropical climate. They do very well in southern regions of the United States. The small, leafy plants, when grown in profusion, give the backyard garden or patio a definite tropical flavor.