By Tom McDonald

The palm family includes the most interesting and distinct plants in our Sonoran Desert landscapes but not all palms are suitable either for the desert or small spaces. 

Of the two hundred genera of palms found the world over, less than a dozen are suitable to our climate. Naturally occurring in tropic and subtropical oasis regions, these plants are not drought tolerant and most need to have their rootzones saturated every week or so making them more suited to the minioasis element of the landscape design.

 Palms belong to the monocotyledon [monocots] subdivision of plants, a group that also contains grasses, bamboo, lilies and orchids.

Commonly used palms in our desert landscapes  include:

  • Pindo palm [Butia capitata] – slow growth to ten to twenty feet with six to eight feet spread. Grayish-green fronds and edible fruit.
  • Mediterranean fan palm [Chamaerops humilis] – five to fifteen feet with five to twenty feet spread. Slow growth, spiny leaf petioles, and a good container plant.
  • Canary Island date palm [Phoenix canariensis] – slow growth forty to sixty feet, spread twenty to forty feet. Very large palm, glossy-green feathery leaves up to twenty feet long armed with sharp spines. Fruit is not considered edible but will draw wildlife.
  • Date palm [Phoenix dactylifera] – cultivated for over five thousand years for its edible fruit. Slow growth to hundred feet with thirty foot spread. Once grown extensively in the Phoenix area for the fruit.
  • Pygmy date palm [Phoenix roebelenii] – slow growth to six feet with many trunks producing a spread of around twelve feet. Originally from Laos, this palm is used extensively in Sonoran landscape to give a distinct tropical effect in a small space. Does not do well in temperatures below twenty degrees and, in my opinion, does not seem to like full sun, especially next to a hot wall. 
  • Queen palm [Syagrus romnzoffiaunum] – moderate growth up to fifty feet with fifteen feet spread. Damaged at temps below twenty degrees, high water user. Must have well draining soil. Tropical effect tree that looks out of place in a desert landscape.
  • California fan palm [Washingtonia filifera] – rapid growth to forty-five with fifteen feet spread. This hardy palm is the only native palm to Arizona.

Free classes in December include:

  • December 6 – Irrigation class at 9 am.
  • December 20 – Garden Walk at 9 am.

Call 480 288 8749 or email for more information.