UF/IFAS Okeechobee County Extension Service

458 Highway 98 North

Okeechobee, FL 34972-2578

  December 6, 2006

Quick Links:    Names & Description   Landscape Use   LY Disease   References & Links 

Feature Article - for release the week of  December 10, 2006  

Dan Culbert - Extension Horticulture Agent, retired

A Palm for Christmas    

Last week this column talked about REAL Christmas Trees for your indoor holiday decorations.  Some may prefer the look smell and feel of an old-fashioned evergreen tree all decked out with lights ornaments and loaded with lots of presents stacked under the tree.


Other Floridians may want to break with tradition and use a more tropical symbol for their Christmas tree.   To celebrate the end of the year in Florida-style, what could be more tropical than a palm tree?



Many palms can be brought indoors for the holidays and returned to the patio or even added to the landscape after the New Year.  A look around local nurseries will find a plant called the Christmas Palm, which can be beautifully decorated as a holiday tree.


But if the Christmas Palm is to be added to the Florida Yard, be aware this tropical palm is sensitive to cold temperatures and is susceptible to a incurable disease. It’s a good subject for this week’s column.




  Below the spreading fronds of the Christmas Palm, a flower cluster produces numerous white to pale green fruit that will ripen to a crimson red color in the winter. Photo: Dan Culbert, UF/IFAS

  Christmas Palms with red, ripe fruit are ready for the holidays without any more decorations! Photo: Dan Culbert, UF/IFAS




Another Name for Christmas


The Christmas Palm has a cluster of deep crimson red fruit which appear in winter.  These berries give this palm the traditional red and green color combination and yet have the tropical appeal.  Fruit appear like magic on a smooth ringed trunk. 



Other names may be used with this palm:

*       Manila Palm hints at its origin in the Philippines. 

*       Dwarf Royal Palm suggests that it small version of the tall, smooth-trunked street palms seen on tropical south  Florida streets and parks.

*       Adonidia Palm refers to its former scientific name, which is now Veitchia merrilli. 




For smaller homes, its 20-30 feet in height will not be too tall.   Slender trunks, elegantly feathery arching leaves, and the clusters of large, red fruit make these palms particularly attractive when planted in informal groups.  Recent hurricanes have also shown they can withstand the high winds that come with tropical storms.



Christmas Palms have single trunks, but may be seen in the nursery as doubles or triples.  If growers place a couple of seedlings together in the container, they will form a more attractive clump.  This palm is noted for its “self-cleaning” fronds, so as older leaves drop off without the need for pruning, they will not leave a 'boot’ on the trunk.




These nursery grown Christmas Palms have three individual plants growing together to make them look like a nice, full clump.  Pictured is the column's author at Tree Locators Nursery in Okeechobee.  Photo: UF/IFAS

In Florida landscapes, Veitchia are just the right size for residential use. Photo: Dan Culbert, UF/IFAS   These are Foxtail Palms, which look a little like the Christmas Palm.  They will get larger than Veitchia.  (They are dressed up not with fruit but with a red ribbon for the holidays!)  Photo: Dan Culbert, UF/IFAS




Perfect Places for Delightful Dwarfs 


They can be kept in the container for some time, and could then be brought indoors in case of cold weather.   And this is problem number one with the Christmas Palm in our area. When temperatures reach into the low 30's, this palm may develop leaf spots that only become apparent several weeks afterwards.  It will survive short durations of temperatures in the mid 20's.



The small size and ability to adapt to a variety of landscape situations make this a possible Florida Yard choice.  Christmas palms should receive some shade while young but will grow better in full sun when older.  There is a yellow variety of this palm that is sometimes available called "Manila Gold".  It is said to handle less light and it grows a bit slower, making it easier to keep it in a container.



They can grow in almost any soil that is well-drained, and they only need a moderate amount of water once established.  As with all palms, give them special palm fertilizers several times each year. Surface roots are not a problem.



Beware Yellowed Palms



Remember those picture postcards of  Miami Beach covered with coconut Palms?  Several years ago, a disease  spread by a small planthopper insect and killed off many of these palms.  It turns out that the Christmas palm is even more sensitive to this disease than the Coconut. 



So - problem number two is that this Veitchia is highly susceptible to the deadly Lethal Yellowing (LY) disease.  Over the years we have discovered some expensive antibiotic treatments and have used some insecticides to slow the spread of the insect that carries LY. However, some recent outbreaks of LY have come back and are again affecting Coconuts and Christmas Palms.


 Lethal Yellowing (LY) is caused by a microscopic virus-like organism called a phytoplasma.  It is spread by a this vector, a planthopper, Myndus crudus, that sucks the sap from an infected plant and then travels to another. There is no cure for an infected palm. Prevention and sanitation are the only ways to deal with LY. Photo: James V. De Filippis


Symptoms of LY on the Christmas Palm are hard to diagnose by appearance. The leaf kink along petiole is due to LY. Photo:
T.K. Broschat, UF/IFAS

        Mature Veitchia palms show LY damage on the older foliage first. Photo: FDACS/DPI Grades & Standards Manual



Nursery customers may want to avoid Christmas Palms grown in areas with recent outbreaks.  There is no "cure" unless the disease is caught before symptoms are noticeable.  Once infected, LY diseased palms need to be removed as soon as possible. Leaving the dying palms in the landscape will increase the odds of spreading the disease to nearby susceptible palms. Check with our office if you need more details on LY symptoms and management ideas.



The best use of this tropical beauty may be to keep it as a patio plant where it may be protected from cold and inside a screen to hold off the disease carrying insects.  If you keep up with the fertilizers, you may be rewarded with a Florida Yard look that is fit for a tropical Christmas Tree.


If you need additional information on Christmas Palms, please contact your local Extension office. Happy Holly-Days!


Trade names, where used, are given for the purpose of providing specific information. They do not constitute an endorsement or guarantee of products named, nor does it imply criticism of products not named. The Florida Cooperative Extension Service - Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer authorized to provide research, educational information, and other services to individuals and institutions that function without regard to race, color, sex, age, handicap, or national origin.  Florida Cooperative Extension Service / IFAS / University of Florida, Nick Place, Dean. Last update: 03/31/2015 .

References & Links

Brown, Stephen. Horticulture Archives.  Fort Myers: UF/IFAS Lee County Extension Service, 1/15/05 and 5/28/05. http://lee.ifas.ufl.edu/horticulturearchive/singlepalmspecies.htm and http://lee.ifas.ufl.edu/horticulturearchive/lyanddwarfroyalpalms.htm

Caldwell, Doug.  Palm Lethal Yellowing Disease.  Naples: UF/IFAS Collier County Extension Service, 2004. http://collier.ifas.ufl.edu/Horticulture/palm_yellowing.htm

Culbert, Daniel F. Palms for Zone 10. Vero Beach: UF/IFAS Extension Service, March, 2002. http://indian.ifas.ufl.edu/News/2002%20news/Palmszone10news.htm

Gilman, Edward F. and Watson, Dennis G.  Christmas Palm Veitchia merrillii [Fact Sheet ST-658].  Gainesville: UF/IFAS Extension Service, October 1994  http://hort.ufl.edu/trees/VEIMERA.pdf

Harrison, Nigel A.  and Elliott, Monica L. Lethal Yellowing (LY) of Palm [Fact Sheet PP-222].  Gainesville: Florida Cooperative Extension Service, January 2006. http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/PP146

Scheper, Jack.  Veitchia merrillii. Floridata Plant encyclopedia webpage, 10/16/03 http://www.floridata.com/ref/V/veit_mer.cfm