NZ Palms, Cycads and Subtropical Plants

Coastal Palms for New Zealand.

Many of us in New Zealand are lucky enough to live near the sea. That makes for mild temperatures and great growing conditions. It does however bring with it sea winds and salt spray which can damage many sensitive plants and in particular, palm species originating from rainforests.


Here we suggest some palms that’ll thrive in coastal New Zealand.

The tough Ponytail Palm (Beaucarnea recurvata), ideal for coastal conditions
Impervious to all but the worst of conditions the Jelly Palm (Butia capitata) will do well in coastal conditions
Coming from the beachfront the Mediterranean Fan Palm (Chamaerops humilis) won’t mind salt spray and strong winds
The Kentia Palm (Howea forsteriana) is native to coastal Lord Howe Island
The Australian Cabbage Palm (Livistona australis) is a tough palm that’ll tolerate strong sea winds
Coastal palms

Howea forsteriana

We’re sure everyone in New Zealand knows the Kentia Palm; either as a house plant or a tough outdoor palm in northern parts. It’s a reliable grower and unlike a number of feather-leaf palms is well suited to coastal conditions. This palm originates from Lord Howe Island and many of the palms there grow on the sea shore. For a tropical looking palm that can be grown right on the edge of the beach nothing surpasses the Kentia palm.


Livistona australis

Both the Australian Cabbage Palm, Livistona australis, and its tropical cousin, Livistona decipiens, seem to experience no ill effects from coastal planting. Both are large palms that grow at a moderate speed. Their tolerance of drought and relative extremes of temperature ensure a good looking palm with little effort.

Chamaerops humilis

Whilst the Mediterranean Fan Palm grows naturally in a range of locations throughout Southern Europe and North Africa it is known to inhabit coastal areas often growing in poor soil close to the sea. If you’ve always considered the Mediterranean to be a warm, placid sea then you’ve never visited Southern Europe in winter! These palms take more than their fair share of sea winds and salt spray and just keep growing. This is a palm that’s just perfect for coastal New Zealand.

Amongst its many virtues the Date Palm (Phoenix dactylifera) is well suited to coastal planting
Originating from the coastal plains of the southern US the Palmetto Palm (Sabal palmetto) won’t mind being planted on the beachfront
Grown throughout California on beachfronts the Mexican Cotton Palm (Washingtonia robusta) is a proven winner for coastal conditions
The Cardboard ‘Fern’ (Zamia furfuracea) grows naturally in coastal Florida

Zamia furfuracea

We’ve included the Cardboard ‘Fern’ (it’s actually a cycad) as an alternative to all the big palm trees. Several Zamia species inhabit coastal areas of the south-eastern United States and eastern Mexico. Best known of these is Zamia furfuracea. Often sold as a curiosity and house plant larger specimens are well suited to coastal planting. Being such a small plant we recommend spacing around one metre apart in order to create the most exotic of ground-covers.

© NZ Palms, Cycads and Subtropical Plants 2019

Beaucarnea recurvata

Over the past 20 years Ponytail Palms have gained a reputation as a garden plant that requires little effort to maintain. Despite the name this is in fact a type of lily (but let’s not let that spoil its inclusion). The Ponytail Palm is a tough plant capable of withstanding reasonable frost (some authorities suggest it can take -6°C). It also seems completely unaffected by salt winds and positively thrives in quick-draining sandy soil.


Butia capitata

Okay, we keep including this one in every category. The problem is that as well as being hardy and tough the Jelly Palm is happy growing in exposed coastal locations. On several occasions we’ve seen this palm planted along the coastline in the UK. Despite howling winter winds and no shortage of sea-spray it still looks in fine shape. We think this palm is a must of any coastal garden.

Phoenix dactylifera

Again the Date Palm has made it into this list too but for good reason. Much like the Canary Island Date Palm, Phoenix canariensis, this palm grows happily adjacent to the sea. Coming from the desert however it’s used to growing in sandy soil and is thus every bit as well suited to coastal New Zealand as its common cousin.


Sabal palmetto

The Palmetto Palm originates in the US from the Gulf and south Atlantic states as well as from nearby Cuba and The Bahamas. Its natural habitat is the coastal plains so is impervious to salt winds and spray. Much like the smaller Sabal minor it’s hardy – probably to around -13°C – but grows to be a substantial palm. This isn’t a fast growing palm but despite its many great attributes it’s still an uncommon palm in New Zealand gardens.

Washingtonia robusta

Okay, the Mexican Cotton Palm’s made it into this list too. But why not? It’s a palm that thrives in sandy soil and will tolerate all but the most extreme sea winds. Being fast growing several palms can quickly colonise a bare corner of the garden or protect other slower growing or more sensitive plants.