Worldwide there are about 2800 palm species among which there are only two basic leaf types: feather leaf and fan leaf. Of the 57 Australian species, two are indigenous to the Sydney region, one a feather palm, the other a fan palm.

Archontophoenix cunninghamiana, Bangalow Palm is a slender, fast growing feather palm reaching about 10 to 15 metres in height, with a smooth grey trunk, an arching crown of mid-green pinnate leaves about 3 metres long and a brownish-purple crownshaft. Fragrant mauve flowers appear between December and April, followed by bright red fleshy fruits. These attract butterflies and many native birds including the Crimson Rosella, Lewin’s Honeyeater and Satin Bowerbird.

Bangalow Palm is generally found in coastal rainforest, between Mackay in Queensland and Bateman’s Bay in New South Wales, in damp situations such as sheltered gullies and lining the banks of streams and swamps.

Bangalows usually grow in stands with individual plants at different stages of development, in pure stands or intermingled with other wet sclerophyll or rainforest trees and understorey plants. They look marvellous when used like this in sheltered gullies and shaded 'rainforest' gardens, and scattered around swimming pools, lagoons and large ponds.

Livistona australis, Cabbage Tree Palm is described in Hugh Johnson’s authoritative International Book of Trees, as "the most graceful of the fan-leaved palms". It is a slender tree with a smooth straight trunk, not as fast-growing as the Bangalow yet eventually reaching up to 20 to 25 metres. Emerging from a dense canopy the shiny green palmate (fan-like) leaves are about 3 metres long, with short prickles along the stems until the crown reaches about head height when they become smooth. Conspicuous clusters of small cream flowers appear between August and October, followed by hard black fruits that feed several native bird species, particularly Topknot and White-headed Pigeons. The early settlers cooked the heart leaves as a cabbage substitute, hence its common name.

Cabbage Tree Palm is found in coastal rainforest and sheltered eucalypt forest between northern Queensland and eastern Victoria, often in large colonies at the edges of waterways and swamps. It is fire resistant, though not fire retardant.

If the spreading, prickly leaf stalks of immature plants deter you from group planting – particularly around a swimming pool – consider somewhere less exposed, or prepare for the expense of several (semi) mature specimens with canopies that have reached at least head height.

Bangalow and Cabbage Tree Palms are both easily grown, transplanted (best in summer!) and tolerant of most soils with some moisture, including soils with poor drainage. They are heavy feeders and respond well to water, mulching and natural, organic fertilisers.

If you decide on group planting, an odd number, unequally spaced and at varying stages of development, will give your garden a natural appearance, especially when compatible understorey plants are used to heighten the effect.

If you live elsewhere, in Australia or overseas, substitute palms indigenous to your locality or region.

The introduced species Syagrus romanzoffianum Cocos Palm (South America) and Phoenix canariensis Canary Island Date Palm, have become environmental weeds in eastern Australia. For more about them, click on Weeds.

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