With Comparison to the More Cold Hardy Spindle Palm
The common name for Hyophorbe lagenicaulis is the Bottle Palm. It gets this common name from the fact that an old specimen has a markedly enlarged base. So, when larger, it looks like a large water bottle. It is a semi-short, sun loving palm that gets to a height of ten feet in a few decades. People enjoy the small stature. But, there are serious limitations. It does very poorly with colder weather. A freeze will often be the end of it. Another palm in the same family, the Spindle Palm, Hyophorbe verschafeltii, is more cold hardy and in our area performs much better. Of all the Bottle Palms sold by depot type stores in our area, an estimated 99% are dead by the first winter.
In the right growing areas, Spindle Palms look very similar but have a 75% chance of making it. Unfortunately you can’t find Spindle Palms at depot type stores because it’s illegal to import them into California – they carry Lethal Yellow Palm Disease. So, as you read below, compare the two species and decide which species is best for you. Also be aware that there’s another Hyophorbe species, H. indica, which is more cold than either the Bottle or Spindle Palm. It, unfortunately, doesn’t have any real bulge to the trunk and is not being discussed here. Remember that all palms in this genus want full sun.
HISTORY OF THE BOTTLE PALM
The Bottle Palm is native to the Round Island and the Mauritius (Mascarene Islands). There are reportedly only ten remaining mature palms left in the wild at the Round Island habitat. Thus, this species is critically endangered and we have no recent updates on habitat plants. However, because of its popularity worldwide, there are many domestic or commercial plantings that insure we’ll have seeds in the future. The original plant material that led to the naming of this species was done by palm pioneer, Harold Moore. This was published in 1998 after his passing. In the Mauritius, there are many Bottle Palms planted along streets or in historical sites. In other areas of the world, particularly in established botanical gardens, there are many decades old specimens that are doing quite well and fruiting. They’ll provide the source of seeds for the future.
NATIVE HABITAT OF THE BOTTLE PALM
As mentioned above, the native habitat of the Bottle Palm is on Round Island and the Mauritius Islands, both east of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean. The Mascarene Archipelago contains these mentioned islands as well as Reunion Island, In habitat, Hyophorbe lagenicaulis is presently only found on Round Island and is critically endangered. Interestingly, plants are being loss not to development but to local, grazing rabbits and goats. This species lives at fairly low elevations and is presently only native to the Round Island. Soil in the habitat is sandy and well-draining. Most mature plants are in full sun locations.
GENERAL DESCRIPTION OF THE BOTTLE PALM
This palm is a short, single trunk and crown shafted pinnate palm. It’s most striking characteristic is the large and widely swollen base. It is fattest closest to the ground. From the base up, the trunk gets more narrow the further one looks up the trunk. The fat part of the trunk may continue up to the mid-trunk. The crown shaft tends to be narrow and green (sometimes an off-purple) in color. Mature height is usually ten feet or less. However, as shown above, a century old plant may be up to about fifteen feet tall.
LEAVES AND CROWN OF THE BOTTLE PALM
In a way, the crown of leaves of this species are sort of sparse. One never sees more than six to eight leaves on a mature plant. Leaves are attached firmly to the trunk by their leaf bases which wrap around the trunk to form the green crown shaft. Leaves average six to ten feet long, green in color and keeled with leaflets pointing upwards. Leaflets are about two feet long and come to a point. There is no armor on the leaf stems. Sometimes, especially on juvenile plants, there is a red color on the leaf stem that is noticeable. Contrast this to the Spindle Palm (below) where this color is more of a yellow. I’d estimate maximal trunk height of this species, even after a century, would be no more than ten to fourteen feet.
TRUNK OF THE BOTTLE PALM
The trunk of a well grown Bottle Palm, especially in warmer tropical localities is very swollen, often up to nearly 24 to 30 inches in diameter. When you plant a young plant in the garden, the first thing you’ll notice is the expansion of the trunk. This growing trunk gets quite wide before you see much height of the overall plant. As the plant gets taller, the trunk tapers in. Thus, the widest portion of the trunk is near the base. This wide base can continue upwards (see photos this article), but below the crown shaft the trunk always tapers. I’ve read mentions that hundred year old trees may lose a bit of the basal width, but this is not certain. The crown shaft is never very swollen or wide. Trunk color is light, either a tan or an off-gray. Growth rings are minimally apparent, especially on older trunks. The crown shaft is a green or silver-green color. Blossoms appear immediately below the crown shaft and look like horns emerging from the trunk before they open.
FRUITS AND SEEDS OF THE BOTTLE PALM
This is a monoecious (one plant needed to set fruit) sex species of palm tree (has both male and female flowers same tree) and thus one palm can potentially make viable seeds. The flowers are branched and appear below the crown shaft. The bracts point upwards and produce a large number of seeds. Initially they are green in color (first picture below) but eventually mature through a blue-silver color to a darker, near black color. Fruits are perhaps an inch in length, the seeds being shorter.
CULTURE OF AND GROWING THE BOTTLE PALM
Sun Requirements: The Bottle Palm demands full sun in almost all areas. If one has very intense sunlight, part day sun may work. This might apply to a desert location. But, as far as we’re aware, this plant does poorly in a shade environment. If you plan to grow it as a houseplant, make sure it’s close to a very bright window.
Cold Tolerance: Most enthusiast agree that this species does not tolerate any type of freeze. There are a few nice sized Hyophorbe lagenicaulis in Southern California (that I know of) but there are many more Spindle Palms. If you are container growing it, you can winter protect it inside the house or in the garage. Just keep it away from temperatures of 32 degrees or less.
Heat Tolerance: Interestingly, the Bottle Palm loves heat. The lack of summer heat will result in a plant that does not perform well.
Speed of Growth: In hot and more tropical areas, growth is slow to medium at best. Remember, it’s never going to get tall. If you are in an area like Southern California, perhaps you can put on a few inches of trunk a year.
Water Requirements: I’d estimate the water needs of this species are about average for a palm. They do well with good draining, sandy soil.
USAGE OF THE BOTTLE PALM IN THE LANDSCAPE
If one satisfies the growing requirements above for the Bottle Palm, it looks best when there’s viewing room and when it is planted as a single specimen. Having a cluster of three will confuse and hide the unusually shaped trunk. Be sure to provide adequate heat and sun and plant in an area that doesn’t freeze. Plants can be used along a driveway (in warm areas), along a street side or randomly placed in open areas of the garden. It also makes an ideal patio plant that gets sun and can be protected from cold.
COMPARISON OF THE BOTTLE PALM TO THE SPINDLE PALM
Very Similar Species in the Same Genus
Both the Bottle Palm and the Spindle Palm are from the same genus. Both would be considered shorter palms. Both demand full sun in most areas and both enjoy heat. But, there are some significant differences between the two.
1. The Bottle Palm is swollen at the base and at the top is more narrow. The Spindle Palm is swollen in the mid-section of the trunk and smaller at the base. It’s more “cigar shaped”. Thus it has the name “spindle”.
2. While the Bottle Palm has more of a red color when juvenile, the Spindle Palm has more of a yellow color. This is very apparent on nursery plants. You may notice this is some photos below.
3. The Spindle Palm is more cold hardy. There are quite a few mature Spindle Palms in our area, some with eight feet of trunk. Cold tolerance of the Spindle is about five degrees better, into the upper 20’s F. For many, this makes a big difference.
4. Potentially, the Spindle Palm gets taller than the Bottle Palm. The former is known over many decades to get up to a maximum of twenty feet tall. It’s rare to see a Bottle Palm much over twelve feet tall.
PHOTOGRAPHS OF THE SPINDLE PALM, HYOPHORBE VERSCHAFELTII
BOTTLE AND SPINDLE PALMS AT THE NURSERY
As we are located in Southern California, we tend to concentrate a lot more on Hyophorbe verschafeltii, the Spindle Palm. We like to sell plants that customers will succeed at growing. Bottle Palms do notoriously poorly here. But, on occasion, we will offer Bottle Palms to people who “just have to have one”. We strongly try to talk them out of it and rather get the Spindle. Bottle Palms are almost always imported as a large, more tropically grown plant from areas like Florida or Hawaii. We germinate and grow our Spindle Palms from seedlings right here at our nursery and typically have 5g and 15g for sale. So, they are tougher and locally grown and germinated.
BOTTLE PALMS AT THE NURSERY OVER TIME
SPINDLE PALMS AT OUR NURSERY, AN ASSORTMENT OF SIZES,
ALL LOCALLY GROWN BY US
Hyophorbe lagenicaulis, known as the Bottle Palm, is a short, single trunk pinnate palm that needs sun and despises cold weather. It does not take a freeze. It is markedly swollen at the base and tapers up toward the crown shaft. Comparison is made to its brother, the Hyophorbe verschafeltii, the Spindle Palm. In contrast to the Bottle, the Spindle Palm is swollen in the mid trunk area. It also gets taller than the Bottle Palm. It also needs sun and heat but is about five degrees more cold hardy. If you live in our area, your successes will be much greater with the Spindle Palm. We offer both for sale but usually encourage people to get the Spindle Palm as it’s a better choice. Most of the Bottle Palms we sell are imported from more tropical areas.
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