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What is a Thatch Palm?

Sara Schmidt
By
Updated May 16, 2024
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Dozens of different varieties of palm trees are known as thatch palm trees. These palms receive their name from the thatch they produce, which is often used as roof thatching. Though thatch palm trees are native to tropical areas, they are sold around the world as ornamental trees and house plants.

The thatch palm tree can survive both indoors as well as outdoors. Since some of these types of palms, such as the Florida thatch palm, are small, they can be kept as container plants within the home. Depending on the type of tree, these palms can grow from 12 to 40 feet (3.6 to 12 meters) in height. These types of palms are generally salt and drought resistant, making them popular ornamental plants in dry areas.

One of the largest genera of the thatch palm is the Coccothrinax genus. Over 50 different species make up this group of plants. These palms range from small to medium, and can be found in tropical areas, such as Cuba and Florida. Many of these are known as silver thatch palms due to the presence of silvery leaves. The trees in this genus are also known for their dense stems covered in crossed spines, giving the trees an appearance similar to that of a yarn skein.

Taller versions of the thatch palm can be found in Australia. The Howea belmoreana and Howea forsteriana are both grown and exported from Lord Howe Island. Like the Coccothrinax, Howea palms feature tightly woven trunks that develop from the trees' pinnate leaves. Also known as the Kentia palm, the Howea forsteriana is often grown indoors as an accent plant, while the Howea belmoreana is more commonly cultivated outdoors.

Thatch palm trees are evergreen and require an average amount of watering. Over watering, however, should be avoided. Soil should be well-drained for best growing results. Full sunlight is recommended for these plants, though they will usually tolerate partial shade as well. Smaller palms can be spaced as little as 4 feet (1.2 meters) apart, while larger palms require more growing room, and may require spacing up to 10 feet (3 meters) apart.

Depending on each species, the plants can survive in temperatures as low as 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4.5 degrees Celsius) to 30 degrees Fahrenheit (-1.1 degrees Celsius). Pruning is not generally recommended for these palm trees, though growers can do so infrequently if desired. The roots and trunks of these plants should be kept as healthy as possible for overall tree health, hence many growers choose to refrain from transplanting these palms.

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Sara Schmidt
By Sara Schmidt
With a Master's Degree in English from Southeast Missouri State University, Sara Schmidt puts her expertise to use by writing for HomeQuestionsAnswered, plus various magazines, websites, and nonprofit organizations. She published her own novella and has other literary projects in the works. Sara's diverse background includes teaching children in Spain, tutoring college students, running CPR and first aid classes, and organizing student retreats, reflecting her passion for education and community engagement.
Discussion Comments
By Vincenzo — On Dec 08, 2014

@Markerrag -- There is at least one, huge difference between thatching and wood, though. Wood is someone fire resistant because it is very dense compared to palm thatching. One good sized spark hitting a pile of dried palm leaves might send them up in smoke in a hurry.

That, I think, is why the fire resistant treatment is so important when it comes to thatching. It is important for wood, too, but that is naturally first resistant (at least a bit).

By Markerrag — On Dec 08, 2014

@Terrificli -- I don't know if there is anything particularly fire resistant about palm thatching, but I do know a lot of that stuff is sold commercially with fire retardant sprayed on it.

I know this because we were looking at some thatching for a patio cover and all of it we saw was advertised as having one fire retardant or another sprayed on it. That causes me to think that dried palms were burn like any other dried plant, so some extra help is needed to keep things safe.

Makes sense when you think about it. After all, wood burns pretty well, yet we have homes and roofs made out of the stuff. The wood used in construction is, I believe, almost always treated to prevent accidental fires.

By Terrificli — On Dec 07, 2014

I've seen and read about thatched roofs over the years and have always wondered one thing. How on earth does one keep a thatched roof from catching fire? We know that dried plants burn like crazy, so is there something about these palms that resist fire pretty well?

Sara Schmidt
Sara Schmidt
With a Master's Degree in English from Southeast Missouri State University, Sara Schmidt puts her expertise to use by writing for HomeQuestionsAnswered, plus various magazines, websites, and nonprofit organizations. She published her own novella and has other literary projects in the works. Sara's diverse background includes teaching children in Spain, tutoring college students, running CPR and first aid classes, and organizing student retreats, reflecting her passion for education and community engagement.
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