Washingtonia robusta, more commonly called the Mexican fan palm and also occasionally referred to as the Mexican washingtonia or simply “skyduster”, belongs to the Arecaceae botanical family — meaning it’s a palm.
The genus this palm plant falls into, Washingtonia, is a small one that consists of two species, or three if the popular hybrid Washingtonia x filibusta is counted. The Mexican fan palm is the tallest tree in its genus, because once fully mature, it can be as tall as 100 feet (just over 30 meters).
Do you have a big garden? Do you live in the right climate? Are you looking for something big to plant in your garden? It’d almost be a crime not to consider the Mexican fan palm — and although anyone hoping to grow and care for this palm certainly benefits from some insider tricks and trips, Washingtonia robusta is generally a joy to take care of.
About Mexican Fan Palms
- The Mexican fan palm, Washingtonia robusta, is a tall palm featuring a roughly-textured columnar trunk, topped with large and exquisitely beautiful fan-shaped fronds (the foliage). Old fronds droop down to form a skirt around the trunk, giving this palm its characteristic look.
- As the name already definitely suggests, Mexican fan palms are indeed native to Mexico — and specifically, the Baja California peninsula as well as Sonora. These palms thrive in other warm, semi-tropical conditions too, and are consider to be naturalized to the hotter regions of the United States (California, Florida, Hawaii, and Texas), as well as Jordan, Israel, Spain, Qatar, Morocco, and the Canary Islands, among other areas.
- You’ll almost certainly catch us calling Washingtonia robusta a “palm tree” — because the fact that they, like most palms, resemble trees is inescapable. Just for the sake of accuracy, though, and because it’s a cool fact, we do need to point out that palms are not trees. They are actually monocots (also called monocotyledons) — very tall grass-like flowering plants.
- To tell Washingtonia robusta apart from its close relative, Washingtonia filifera (the California fan palm), it’s good to know that Mexican fan palms have slightly smaller fronds with a more vibrant green color, and that their trunks are more slender. The skirts of Mexican fan palms also tend not to be as dense, and California fan palms can grow further north than Mexican fan palms.
- These palms can grow to be very old — nobody knows for sure exactly how old, but specimens thought to be over 500 years old have been identified in Mexico. The tallest Mexican fan palms in LA have been there since 1875, but likely haven’t even reached middle age yet!
- The interesting black fruits that the Mexican fan palm produces during summer and fall are, in fact, edible.
- If you had the feeling that the genus the Mexican fan palm belongs to, Washingtonia, was named for George Washington, you’d be right. The robusta in its name, meanwhile, points to the fact that this is a hardy palm that will thrive without too much care, so long as you live in an appropriate growing zone.
- Mexican fan palm trees will shine in all their tropical glory when allowed to form the centerpiece of a garden. They also look absolutely amazing against a backdrop of skyscrapers, and that’s probably why you’ll see them planted along highways in regions like Florida.
- If you’re planning to grow a Mexican fan palm in your yard, it’s important to plant the tree at least eight feet away from your foundation — these palms develop complex root systems that could risk the structural integrity of your home!
Mexican Fan Palm Features: An Overview
- Washingtonia robusta is a tall flowering monocot with a fairly slender light brown, light gray, or burgundy colored trunk. Its fronds are positioned atop the palm, where they form an impressive fan shape. Underneath the active fronds, you’ll notice that the palm has a “skirt”; these are old fronds that droop down.
- Mature Mexican fan palms are typically between 50 and 100 feet (15 and 30 meters) tall. Unlike most actual trees, these monocots have a very modest spread of eight to 10 feet (two and a half to three meters). Mexican fan palms are rapid growers, and adopting a young specimen from a nursery will soon yield an impressively tall plant.
- The evergreen leaves of the Mexican fan palm tree have an, ehm, palmate shape (surprise, surprise!). They have a very vibrant and fresh green color and sit atop a long stem, which has slight spikes. The foliage of this palm can reach a length of around three feet (one meter).
- Once the growing season comes to a close, the leaves droop down to contribute to the plant’s skirt. Unlike with the California fan palm, these old frond do eventually fall off, creating a slightly more slender appearance. When this happens, the surrounding area can become “messy”; one of the primary complaints people have about this tree. Think of it like this, though. The plant’s doing you a favor, and is self-pruning.
- The Mexican fan palm gives rises to amazing showy flowers in the summer. They’re not huge, but their beautiful golden or cream color and slight tropical fragrance makes the blooms enjoyable to gardeners.
- Once Washingtonia robusta‘s blooms wane, tiny pea-sized black fruits follow. These fruits are edible, though too sparse to be very interesting to gardeners, but they can also be used to propagate the Mexican fan palm.
- Gardeners may be interested to know that Washingtonia robusta, also called skyduster, can in fact also be grown in large planters in the garden or indoors — in which case the palm definitely won’t live up to its name, but will nonetheless be a gorgeous ornamental.
- Mexican fan palm plants are fairly resistant to pests, though spider mites and mealybugs are both potential problems to watch out for. Gardeners would, on the other hand, do well to keep in mind that Washingtonia robusta is vulnerable to developing a potassium deficiency, which can cause their leaves (starting at the tip) to discolor and perish.
Growing Mexican Fan Palms
Gardeners who are looking for a tall plant (OK, “tree”) that will thrive with relatively little care will fall in love with Washingtonia robusta, because the Mexican fan palm is a low-maintenance plant, so long as you can offer it the right set of cultural conditions.
As tropical palms, Mexican fan palm trees need at least six hours of direct sunlight a day — and while they can absolutely grow next to tall buildings, it’s important to keep this in mind. These palms are not frost hardy at all, and a Mexican fan palm’s fronds will sustain damage as soon as temperatures dip below 20 ºF (-6.7 ºC).
This is why gardeners are generally advised to only grow Washingtonia robusta in regions where it is known to be able to succeed — those who live in just slightly colder areas are advised to look into getting a California fan palm, instead.
Washingtonia robusta prefers neutral to slightly acidic sandy or loamy soil, which should be well-draining. These palms are resistant to periods of drought, as well as to wind. They grow well in coastal regions, too, as Mexican fan palms do not mind salt spray or slightly salty soil.
To address the most challenging part of caring for a Mexican fan palm, the skirt these trees develop as a result of aged and browned fronds drooping down does pose somewhat of a fire hazard. This is why many gardeners prefer to routinely prune the skirts.
Reaching the skirt, which may be rather high up, will require a ladder, and you may prefer to hire a landscape gardener to take care of this tricky job. Over time, the skirt often becomes self-shedding, in which case gardeners are left with messy fronds to clean up.
To ensure that your Mexican fan palm’s nutritional needs are met, and the plant does not develop a potassium deficiency which can make your palm sick as well as taking away from its visual appeal, a liquid or granular fertilizer specifically designed for palms is recommended.
- Seedlings are 3" to 5" tall
- Fast Growing
- Drought Tolerant
- Stunning Height
- Exotic and Beautiful! Grows up to 90 feet tall!
- One of the easiest palms to grow from seed! Requires full-sun. Zones: 9 to 11. The Mexican Fan Palm is a fast-growing palm tree that grows over 90 feet tall. It is native to Western Sonora and Baja California in Northwestern Mexico. In the USA it grows in California, Arizona, Southern Nevada, New Mexico and the coast of Texas to Southern Florida. The Mexican Fan Palm is an attractive ornamental palm tree best used as a street tree and in groves.
- Prefers rich, well-drained soil. Can survive on poor soils and sand.
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Watering Mexican Fan Palms
Mexican fan palms may be native to warm and dry tropical areas, but that doesn’t mean that Washingtonia robusta won’t benefit from plenty of water to stay healthy!
Most Mexican fan palms enjoy soil that is occasionally dry, and can develop root root easily if they are growing in areas with consistently soggy soil — making it important to plant your Mexican fan palm in a well-draining spot.
Even though these lovely plants are native to drier areas, Mexican fan palms can even be found growing underground in small pockets of water. They are also only slightly drought resistant, so don’t leave the soil of your Mexican fan palm completely dry for prolonged periods of time!
Just how much water your Mexican fan tree will need depends on your weather, though. Most of the time, rain water will supply plenty of water for your Mexican fan palm.
This doesn’t mean that these gorgeous plants won’t appreciate an occasional deep watering! If faced with drought, it’s important to keep your Washingtonia robusta‘s soil moderately moist too.
However, your young and recently planted Mexican fan palms will need a little more attention. Frequent watering helps young plants mature and stay healthy, and the same goes for a Mexican fan plant. Water a new Mexican fan palm around once a week, whenever you notice the top inch of the soil is dry, never letting it fully dry out.
Propagating Mexican Fan Palms
Mexican fan palms are fairly easy to propagate, so long as you know how. When it comes to propagating any plant, there’s often many different options, but Mexican fan plants can only reliably be propagated from seed.
This process is the easiest to do and the least likely to fail when trying to propagate a Mexican fan tree. Though you may need to be a little patient, the propagation process won’t be that difficult, even if you’re a beginning gardener.
The steps you’ll need to take to propagate a Mexican fan palm — Washingtonia robusta — using seeds are:
- You’ll first need to obtain healthy Mexican fan palm seeds, which can be done in several ways. Seeds can be harvested from a mature plant, where you’ll be able to plant them right away or store them for later use, and even give some to your friends and family. You can also, however, buy Mexican fan palm seeds online if this is your first time growing a Washingtonia robusta.
- Before you plant your seeds, you’ll need to prepare a pot with soil for your Mexican fan tree. This plant thrives in sandy and rich soil, so consider picking a sand-based soil for your pot. Make sure it’s well-draining and that you moisten the soil before you start planting.
- It’s time to plant your Mexican fan palm! Place the seed just below the surface of your soil. If you want a increase the chance that you will end up with a thriving Mexican fan palm, you may want to plant several seeds, as some are likely to fail, especially if you are a beginner.
- That’s most of your work done! Just remember to keep your Mexican fan palm in a sunny spot and to keep the soil moist, making sure it doesn’t dry out. After a while of waiting, you may notice your Paican fan palm sprouting!
Indoor gardeners should keep in mind that although Mexican fan palms can technically be grown as houseplants, they are at a high risk of drying out in these conditions. They will require more water, and absolutely must be placed in a sunny spot. a Washingtonia robusta grown as a houseplant will also need to be pruned regularly.
Mexican fan palms, although native to Mexico, have become naturalized to warm regions across the globe — and if you live in one of them, these palms are an excellent choice if you are looking for a tropical focal point for your garden. Washingtonia robusta is easy to care for and will soon grow into a very impressive plant.