Here at Plant Delights Nursery, we are always on the lookout for cold hardy palms for East Coast gardens. The genus Brahea from Mexico is a great candidate as it is native to northern Mexico and the Southwest US. A few Hesper palm species are reliable down to 10 degrees F given the right conditions.
More Information About Brahea
Brahea is popular in California as an ornamental tree, but is not as widely used in the Southeast where it can be a slow grower and sensitive to our humidity and wet soils. Certain species (B. armata) are less tolerant of humidity and others (B. brandegeei) are more tolerant. In addition to its beauty, Brahea is popular in gardens because it is remarkably drought-tolerant. Brahea makes a good coastal garden plant, too, due to its salt tolerance. Brahea is a close relative of another hardy palm that we sometimes grow, Serenoa.
Hesper palms feature fan-shaped fronds that, in many of its members, persist after they die to form a skirt around the trunk. Some modest gardeners choose to leave the skirt in place but more risque gardeners don't mind pulling off the skirt. The fronds are either stiff and spreading or somewhat droopy at the tips depending on the species. Some Brahea palm fronds are armed the leaf petioles can be sharply toothed, so watch your fingers.
Brahea is known as having the bluest leaves (B. armata) in the palm world but some species may have fronds that are silvery-white, silvery-green or just plain green. The attractive fronds are the main reason why the Hesper palm is such a popular landscape plant. Hesper palms also have extremely attractive blooms and fruit. The large, branched inflorescences are covered in tiny white or yellow flowers and hang down from the crown of the plant like giant feathers.
Some Hesper palm species (B. armata) can grow quite tall in the right environment 50 feet tall is not unheard of. At the other end of the height range, the small Brahea tree species (B. aculeata) max out in the 15 foot range. There are a few Hesper palms that are considered shrubs rather than trees and only grow to 8 feet tall. All look good in containers, but of course will not grow nearly as large as their landscape brethren. Hesper palms are generally single trunked treesmost do not sucker like Nannorrhops or Chamaerops.
Brahea may be incredibly drought-tolerant, but it will grow faster and stay attractive if you treat it well by watering frequently and providing plenty of sun and low but consistent levels of fertilizer. Gardeners can enhance the winter hardiness of Hesper palm by planting it in well-drained soil, as winter moisture promotes rot. Hesper palms also require well-drained soil in the Southeast US as they are accustomed to the arid desert Southwest and not to our muggy conditions. If you can grow Washingtonia palms, then Brahea is a good candidate for your garden as well. Try pairing Brahea in the garden with its Mexican hermanos Chrysactinia, Agaves, Polianthes, Salvia, and Lobelia.
The genus name Brahea commemorates the Danish astronomer, Tycho Brahe. And although native to Mexico, the common name, Hesper palm, comes from Greek mythology. The Hesperides were nymphs that tended a garden at the western corner of the world (Hesper palms are common on the west coast of Mexico). One particular Hesperides nymph was named Erythea which is also the original name of this genus . When you are ready to buy Brahea for your garden, check out our online list of Brahea for sale.