The Queen or Cocos Palm is endemic to South America, occurring naturally from southern Brazil to Argentina. It was once classified as Cocos plumosa under the Cocos genus but is now known as Syagrus romanzoffiana. Syagrus is the genus of palm trees.
The queen palm resembles the coconut tree in appearance. It has been used widely used for landscaping purposes and is common in Florida and California. Once very popular as an ornamental tree in Australia, it has fallen out of favour on the east coast. There, it has become naturalised in native forests and rainforests, particularly along riparian areas and near the coast of north-eastern New South Wales and south-eastern Queensland.
It is a large palm that grows to 20 metres high with a trunk diameter of 0.6 metres. The single trunk is smooth and grey. The canopy usually consists of around 15 ‘leaves’ – dark green fronds with a double row of leaflets. Widely spaced horizontal scars mark the trunk where the leaves have fallen. The leaves may grow to 5 metres long, with leaflets 1 metre long and up to 3cm wide These give a plumed appearance as they spread in different planes. The green leaves are greyish underneath.
During summer, huge pods form and then split to reveal large clusters of cream-coloured flowers. These become bunches of green, spherical fruits, each of which is about 2cm long. The fruit is produced in copious numbers and turn yellow-orange when ripe.
The tree is fast-growing and tough. In good conditions and once established, it may grow almost two metres a year. It is also long-lived. Although quite graceful in appearance, dead fronds and rotting, dropping fruit make it an untidy plant. It has a weak, shallow root system. This, combined with a sail-like canopy, makes it dangerous in high winds. It quickly becomes too high to prune with a pole saw and is soon too high to prune even with a ladder and pole saw.
Queen palms like acidic and well-drained soils. Alkaline soil may need the addition of iron, manganese and potassium if the tree is not to grown in a stunted manner. Apply fertiliser round the tree but out from the base of the trunk. Manganese is the most important of the trace elements. Without manganese, queen palms develop a condition called ‘frizzy top’ which can lead to the death of the tree. Pruning off discoloured fronds will help develop a strong plant.
While this is certainly an eye-catching palm, it is messy and certainly hard to prune. Under ideal conditions, it readily becomes naturalised and then competes with true native species. These factors, combined with its predisposition to topple over during storms and high winds, may mean you will prefer to choose something else.