Tree Profiles Princess Palm

The Princess Palm is another of those palms that have their origins in the Mascarene Islands where they occur in coastal forests. Unfortunately in their native habitat they are almost extinct as the heart of the palm is regarded as a food delicacy. It is popular as a landscape plant throughout the tropics.

They are similar in appearance to Archontophoenix alexandrae (Alexander palm) but each frond folds back on itself to form an inverted ‘U’.

The princess palm is perhaps better known as the hurricane palm and has the botanical name of Dictyosperma album. It is the only species in its genus. It is called ‘princess palm’ because of its graceful form and ‘hurricane palm’ because of its strong root system and ability to withstand hurricane-force conditions.

The princess palm has a single trunk and what is known as a ‘pinnate’ leaf type, meaning leaflets are arranged either side of a common axis. The pale, prominent crownshaft is covered in grey to brown scales over a base colour of light green, white or red. The grey or white trunk has a slightly swollen base and the leaves arch downwards in a graceful manner. The (generally) slender crown means there is less impact on lawn growing underneath than with some palms. The crown consists of 10 to 20 leaves which are covered in white wax.

The leaves can reach a length of almost 4 metres and the leaflets 1 metre. The flower stalk appears as a large branching cluster below the leaves with male and female flowers on the same inflorescence. The creamy yellow flowers give way to bullet-shaped, purple/black drupes. It is regarded as a medium fast grower and is salt tolerant. The leaves of young palms are reddish. While young this palm makes a good container or indoor specimen.

The princess palm grows to about 10 metres. It requires full or part sun in coastal areas but may need some protection in colder regions. It is wind tolerant but has trouble coping with constant drying winds. As mentioned, it has a strong root system and is ideal for coastal areas with strong winds.

It is a low maintenance plant as it is self-cleaning with dead fronds dropping off. It will grow in most soil types. It requires adequate water and does best in areas with high humidity.

There are several cultivars including ‘conjugatum’ which is shorter with a larger trunk and long strands hanging from the leaf tips and ‘aureum’ which has a distinct yellow stripe on the lower surface of the leaflets.

The princess palm is a graceful and elegant plant well worth considering if you are looking for an attractive palm.