Livistona Chinensis, also known as the Chinese Fan Palm or the Fountain Palm, is a subtropical tree, belonging to the Arecaceae family, most commonly known as the palm family. There are over 2600 species belonging to this family, with diverse species that include shrubs, climbers, stem-less plants, and trees.
The Chinese Fan Palm is native to southeastern Asia, being most common in Japan, Hainan, southeastern China, or Taiwan. It is also popular in the United States, South Africa, and other subtropical parts of the world, where it is grown as an ornamental tree.
The Chinese Fan Palm can also become a weed in highly humid environments such as the Florida wetlands or Hawaii. Nonetheless, this palm’s rich, cascading foliage makes it the desired plant in many gardens.
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About the Chinese Fan Palm
- The rich foliage which adorns the sleek trunk gives this tree a very royal appearance, earning it the Royal Horticultural’s Society Award of Garden Merit.
- The palm’s crown is very dense, and it overshadows nearby plants. In certain environments, it can be quite aggressive, so you need to be careful where you plant it in your garden.
- It is listed as an aggressive species in Florida, Mauritius, Hawaii, Bermuda, New Caledonia, and Reunion. It is particularly invasive in Florida where it is listed as a category II invasive plant. This means that it can disrupt native ecosystems.
- It prefers warmer climates with average temperatures above 20 degrees Celsius. Nonetheless, in the winter it can also survive in lower temperatures of around 0 degrees Celsius.
- It is not prone to diseases, nor does it have any serious pest issues. However, it can suffer from various nutrient deficiency, potassium deficiency being the most common. Discoloration of the leaves is the most common sign of a nutrient deficiency.
- It is commonly used in plant borders, but it can also grow well in plant beds and even in containers.
- Despite its native environment, the Chinese Fan Palm is commonly found in Mediterranean gardens, where it complements well its European relatives. However, it also gets along well with other palm species such as the Californian Fan Palm, the Mexican Blue Palm, or the Canary Island Date Palm.
- With adequate care, it can also be grown indoors at a smaller scale. It will reward your care by purifying the indoor air of various volatile organic compounds.
- Whether grown indoors or outdoors, this palm tree is not toxic to either humans or pets. Nonetheless, this tree has thin leaves with sharp barbs that can cause skin cuts when it is not handled with care.
Chinese Fan Palm Features: An Overview
- This is a medium-sized tree. A mature plant will grow to over 3 meters in height and in ideal growing environments, it can reach 9 meters.
- This palm has a sleek trunk, as wide as 30 cm, topped with dozens of leaves.
- The emerald fan-shaped leaves have a coarse texture and they are divided into thin lobes with arched tips. The leaves are about 1 meter long, but there are some that can grow up to 2 meters.
- The leaves are attached to the trunk through stiff, serrated petioles. When the old leaf fronds fall, so do the petiole stubs, leaving the thunk quite smooth.
- This palm tree produces some creamy-yellow inflorescences in spring. However, the flowers are very small and way shorter than the leaves, which is why they often pass unnoticed.
- The plant produces both female and male flowers which develop in oval fruits. The fruits are green at first but they get a blue-gray shade when they ripe.
- Specimens with multiple trunks are not uncommon, especially in containers. Nonetheless, these specimens will stay shorter than the single trunk varieties.
Growing the Chinese Fan Palm
Despite its royal appearance, this palm is not very picky. It prefers clay, loam, and sand, but any rich, well-drained soil will keep it happy, along with a sunny position.
In terms of pH, it grows well in all mediums, be they acid, alkaline, or neutral. It can be a little sensitive to bright sunlight when it is young, so you might need to provide it some shelter until it reaches maturity. If you are uncertain whether or not your environment is suitable for this plant, you should check your heat zone. This tree grows best in the 10-11 heat zones.
In terms of feeding, you should fertilize it two or three times a year to encourage its growth, but only during the growing season, so from early spring until fall. You will get the best results with a granular palm fertilizer, but an organic mulch will also give it a growing boost.
The Chinese Fan Palm has an upright growing tendency, but it will require occasional pruning to build a good structure. Pruning is very simple, as all you have to do is remove the dead leaves from the bottom of the crown. For outdoor trees, you only need to do this once a year.
Spacing is very important, whether you are planting the palm directly in the garden soil or in containers. Make sure it is at least one and a half meter away from any wall to allow its fronds to spread properly. If you grow it in containers, allow at least one meter between the containers. Since this is a very slow-growing plant, you will rarely need to repot it.
Indoors, try to keep the palm in a partially sunny location, and try to keep it away from air vents and drafts. This plant can be quite sensitive to dry air, and it is also not a fan of sudden temperature changes.
Watering the Chinese Fan Palm
Although this evergreen tree can survive droughts, it will be affected by them, so it is best not to test it and water it regularly, even if you are growing it outdoors. You can decrease the watering frequency during colder seasons.
- Potted indoor plants need as much as 2-3 watering sessions per week.
- Make sure the container and the soil have good drainage and that the roots don’t soak in water.
- Allow the top 3 centimeters of the soil to dry between watering sessions and use either rain or distilled water.
- Tap water can also work as long as it doesn’t have too much fluoride. Most palm trees are very sensitive to fluoride.
The plant’s watering needs can vary depending on the plant’s position and the amount of sunshine that it gets. Frequently stick your finger in the soil once every couple of days to check the moisture and only water when the soil feels dry. After a couple of weeks, you should understand your plant’s water needs.
Palm trees prefer more humid environments, and for many palm species, you can use a pebble tray under the plant’s container to create humidity around the plant. You can also use a cool-mist humidifier to create a similar effect.
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- The hardy nature and lush look of the Chinese fan palm makes it a South Florida landscape favorite.
- The wide-spreading crown, with drooping fan leaves that have a layered "weep," will stay low to the ground while the palm is young.
- This makes it a great privacy plant, an excellent container palm or a generously-sized anchor for a tropical garden bed.
- Pretty at every stage of its growth, the Chinese fan will eventually grow a single trunk and rise to about 25 feet. It's a slow grower for any light - best in sun to partial shade.
- It's cold hardy - thriving in all areas of Zones 9 and 10 - and moderately salt-tolerant and drought-tolerant once it's well established.
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Propagating the Chinese Fan Palm
Like most palms, the Chinese Fan Palm can be propagated from seed. Nonetheless, since it grows very slowly, seed propagation is not recommended for beginners as it is very time-consuming. If you decide to try propagation by seed, sow the seeds in spring.
Plant the seeds in rich soil, as described below, but don’t stick them too deep in the soil. Make small holes with your fingers and barely cover the seeds with soil. The seeds need a lot of warmth so consider using either a plastic heat chamber or a heated seedling mat.
Cuttings are a much easier and faster propagation method. You can propagate from cuttings when you have a medium-sized potted plant that you can remove from its container. Once you remove the plant, shake off the excess soil and look for a sucker that is at least 30 cm tall. Use a sharp blade to cut the sucker away from the mother plant.
Prepare a medium-sized container and fill it with a medium made with one part perlite or sand and two parts standard potting mix. Place the sucker into the mix, press the medium around it to ground it well, and cover the pot with a plastic bag. Keep the new plant out of direct sunlight until it develops roots. A rooting hormone is not necessary but it can give the plant a boost of nutrients so that it can survive the separation from the mother plant.
As you can see, the Chinese Fan Palm is not a very picky plant. It does require a good amount of care, but as with the most slow-growing evergreens, it is quite resilient, and it will allow you a few mistakes.
While it can easily be grown indoors, it rarely manages to grow its rich cascading crown when planted in a container. Therefore, the Chinese Fan Palm is most commonly found outdoors in subtropical gardens. It grows well in containers on balconies and patios. Regardless of where you place it, make sure to check on it regularly in the first few months until the plant adapts to its new home.