NZ Palms, Cycads and Subtropical Plants

Palms for Shade for New Zealand.

If you are lucky enough to have a shady corner in your garden free from bright sun and strong winds you should consider one of these lovely palm trees.

King Palms (Archontophoenix alexandrae) looking perfect in a shady spot
The Cascade Palm (Chamaedorea cataractarum), another shade loving palm
Suitable only for the darkest parts of the garden the Metallic Palm (Chamaedorea metallica) is the perfect palm for shade
The Bamboo Palm (Chamaedorea microspadix) is another palm that will grow happily in deep shade
Palms for shade
The Kentia Palm (Howea forsteriana) is equally at home in sun or shade
Much like the Kentia the Chinese Fan Palm (Livistona chinensis) will take sun or shade
The delicate Wedding Palm (Lytocaryum weddellianum) is perfect for a shady corner
The Pygmy Date Palm (Phoenix roebelenii) can happily be grown in the shade
The Lady Palm (Rhapis excelsa) looks best grown somewhere dark
Much like its native cousin the Norfolk Island Nikau (Rhopalostylis baueri) prefers shade
The Nikau (Rhopalostylis sapida) looks at its best in sheltered spots

© NZ Palms, Cycads and Subtropical Plants 2019

Archontophoenix alexandrae

The choice of the King Palm, Archontophoenix alexandrae, for shady conditions might seem a little odd at first. After all, these are the statuesque palms seen growing in bright, sunny locations. However, the King Palm just thrives in dark gullies, protected from the harsh sun and strong winds. In such settings its graceful, deep green fronds are shown off to perfection.


Chamaedorea cataractarum

Perhaps the most gorgeous palm of them all for a damp, dark spot is the Cascade Palm, Chamaedorea cataractarum. With its deep green fronds and low, clustering habit nothing comes close if you’re wanting to create the feeling of the lush, damp rainforest.


Chamaedorea metallica

The Metallic Palm, Chamaedorea metallica, is the perfect palm for shade. It’s delicate, an unusually coloured sliver-black and hardy enough for most gardens in northern New Zealand. If you’ve a particularly warm microclimate you may wish to try the common Parlour Palm, Chamaedorea elegans, outside too. Like the Metallic Palm it’ll need deep shade but you’d be surprised how tough these palms are when past their juvenile stage. Just make sure you use plenty of snail bait.


Chamaedorea microspadix

It seems that practically no section can be complete without reference to this wonderful palm. Being tolerant of low light it is well suited to dark ravines where – with age – it forms thickets with multiple thin trunks stretching up to meet the light.

Howea forsteriana

Whilst we tend to think of the Kentia Palm as the ubiquitous indoor palm it’s hardly surprising that it’s perfectly suited to dark, shady locations in milder gardens. The same fronds that lose their colour with age in full sun remain a deep green resulting in a lush palm with many fronds.


Livistona chinensis

Whilst the Chinese Fan Palm makes a cracking outdoor palm for sun or shade it’s also a great indoor palm for a large house. You’ll need to give it some room – at least 2m x 2m – but it’ll reward you with huge, practically undivided leaves and a trunk that’ll take forever to get too big!

Lytocaryum weddellianum

The graceful and delicate Wedding Palm is perfect for a dark, shady location in a mild garden. Without exposure to harsh, bright sun its fronds grow to an optimum size. Being a small and slow growing palm it’s perfect for a dark corner amongst ferns and mosses.


Phoenix roebelenii

We all know that the Pygmy Date Palm will happily grow in full sun. What’s perhaps less appreciated is that when grown in the shade these palms produce longer, much more verdant fronds. As the palm ages it develops a thin (c.10cm) trunk that will bend towards the light. Being relatively hardy it’ll look good year-round. For a real tropical effect plant three together in a small area and observe the trunks gradually arcing away from each other.

Rhapis excelsa

As well as being a fantastic palm both as an indoor plant and for cold climates the Lady Palm is a cracking plant for dark spots in the garden. In fact it positively thrives out of the sun. This is at odds with how you might encounter the palm in the tropics where is grown in full sun. It seems that in a hot, humid climate the tolerance of this species is quite high but less so in New Zealand’s harsh sun. If you’re after something tough for the darkest corner of your garden then this is it.


Rhopalostylis sp.

Both Rhopalostylis sapida (the native Nikau) and Rhopalostylis baueri (the Norfolk Island Nikau) are perfectly suited to dark and shady spots. Being slow growing they’ll require an age before they break through the canopy and coming from a temperate climate they’ll plod along opening new fronds while other palms wait for warmer spring weather. We’re not keen on regulation but we’d suggest there ought to be a law against growing the native Nikau in full sun!