Pygmy Date Palm
By Mollie Luze, Reiman Gardens, Iowa State University
The definition of pygmy is ‘an individual of unusually small size considered to be of little or no importance.’ While the pygmy date palm, Pheonix roebelinii, may be small in stature, it is far from insignificant in interior landscaping.
As a whole, the palm family (Arecaceae) is one the most easily recognizable plant families, with over 2,600 species found in the tropical or subtropical climates of the world. The genus Pheonix makes up just a small portion of this group, with about 17 species. The genus is known as the date palms because the fruit pulp that can be very sweet and sugary in some species.
The pygmy date palm originates from Southeast Asia, where it grows in clearings or along riverbanks with sun to partial shade. The species requires abundant water with a rich, organic soil to reach full potential. USDA hardiness zone for the plant is 10-11 (30- 40 °F), but has been known to exist in 9b (20-30 °F) for many years without protection. The palm can make a wonderful small patio tree during the summer months in the Midwest, however; it must be brought indoors before the first frost in the fall.
The pygmy date palm is considered one of the more graceful palms of the species, with its relatively thin solitary trunk and full rounded crown. Trunk height can reach 8-10 feet and each leaf can grow up to 6 feet long with evenly spaced leaflets. Young leaves are covered in a chalky, grayish cast, making an attractive contrast to the deep green mature leaves. The leaves are also noticeably more lightweight and soft in texture compared to the other species.
Because of its size, the pygmy date palm is popular for interiorscapes and commercial plantings. The palm is often sold with several plants to a container and is usually referred to as multi-stemmed specimen, creating an attractive, full arrangement.
You can see a pygmy date palm used as a backdrop in the indoor conservatory at Iowa State University’s Reiman Gardens. The current display focuses on the artwork of Georgia O’Keeffe and her interest in calla lilies.