Chinese Fan Palm (Fountain Palm) Plant Profie

palm tree
Photo © Rachid/Flickr

The Chinese fan palm (Livistona chinensis) is a durable tree that derives its other common name (fountain palm) from the way the leaves spill down from the crown. Though native only to eastern Asia, these specimens have naturalized across the world because of their adaptability and toughness. In fact, in parts of Florida, the Chinese fan palm is considered an invasive species.

Unlike many other palms, the Chinese fan palm can tolerate cold and drought, making it a good outdoor palm for those who don’t live in the tropical heat most palms require. At its peak, the Chinese fan palm can reach 30 to 40 feet tall, but in cultivation, it is kept much smaller and many gardeners grow them inside as potted houseplants. The Chinese fan palm is a good palm for beginners because of its hardiness.

The leaves of the Chinese fan palm grow in circular, segmented fans with spines that gradually disappear as the trees mature. These wide and attractive leaves can range from a deep green to bluish-green.

In the appropriate subtropical climate, this tree can be planted at any time. This slow-growing tree has a bushy growth habit when young, but over 10 years or so it will extend a single trunk that supports overhead foliage. It can be expected to live for 40 years or so.

Botanical Name Livistona chinensis
Common Names Chinese fan palm, fountain palm
Plant Type Palm tree
Mature Size 30 to 40 feet tall; 12-foot spread
Sun Exposure Full sun to part shade
Soil Type Average, medium-moisture, well-drained soil
Soil pH 6.0 to 7.0 (slightly acidic to neutral)
Bloom Time Insignificant flowers
Flower Color Insignificant flowers
Hardiness Zones 9 to 10 (USDA)
Native Area East Asia; widely naturalized in many subtropical areas

How to Grow Chinese Fan Palm

Chinese fan palms will grow well in almost any average soil that receives a modest amount of moisture. When grown as a potted plant, it does well in any ordinary potting mix. The biggest thing to remember about these palms is to fertilize them regularly, particularly during the growing season. Watch out for nutrient deficiency in the Chinese fan palm, especially potassium deficiency. The discoloration of leaves is a possible sign of potassium deficiency in the Chinese fan palm.

Don’t overwater the palm and be sure to give the plant plenty of sunlight, as well. These palms are quite tough and will survive lots of conditions. For this reason, the Chinese fan palm is often recommended for beginning gardeners.

These palms don’t have any big insect or disease problems but watch out for common pests like spider mites and fungal diseases such as trunk rot.

Light

This tree does best with lots of sunlight but it can tolerate part shade, as well. Indoors, the tree does best with lots of bright indirect light, but out of direct sunlight.

Soil

Outdoors, grow this tree in any ordinary medium-moisture soil. Indoors, the Chinese fan palm can grow in any well-drained potting mix.

Water

These palms are fairly drought tolerant and many are grown in dry areas like Texas and New Mexico. Though the palm does need some water, its watering can be scaled back once the growing season ends. But indoor plants will easily absorb two or three light waterings per week, provided the roots don't soak in water.

Temperature and Humidity

The Chinese fan palm is one of the few frost-resistant palm trees, and it can tolerate temperatures as low as 20 degrees Fahrenheit. It does well in both humid and fairly dry air conditions.

Fertilizer

This slow-growing palm will grow faster if regularly fertilized, which also will prevent it from developing a nutritional deficiency. An 8-2-12 palm fertilizer is best, and fertilization is even more important if it’s grown outside. Indoor plants should be fed once a month.

Pruning

It’s a good idea to remove the palm’s dead leaves at the bottom of the crown about once a year.

Potting and Repotting

Like most palms, a Chinese fan palm growing in a container doesn’t need to be repotted often, since growing in a pot greatly slows its growth. Planting the palm in a big enough pot for its root system should eliminate the need to repot, unless the soil is depleted or it outgrows its pot. If so, make sure not to damage the fragile roots during the transition to a larger pot.

These are rather large indoor plants, growing as much as 12 feet tall, so they are best suited for large rooms with high ceilings.

Propagating Chinese Fan Palm

The Chinese fan palm propagates by seed, although in practice the seeds can take a very long time to germinate and you may be better served to buy a young specimen from a nursery. These palms can also propagate from cuttings—just cut away some shoots and repot them, making sure to keep the cuttings out of direct sun as their roots develop. New cuttings should be planted in a soil rich in organic matter.

Landscape Uses

Chinese fan palm has a dense, low growth habit when young, making it a good choice for privacy screening. As it matures, it will become an upright tree with a thick trunk, ideal for a specimen tree in the landscape. These plants are frequently used as large indoor potted plants. Give them space in a large room with high ceilings, in a spot that receives plenty of bright indirect light.

Chinese Fan Palm vs. Other Fan Palms

The Chinese fan palm is closely related to other Asian fan palms, such as Livistona carinensis and the Australia red cabbage palm (Livistona mariae), but many of its relatives are very rare. In the published literature on plant use and care, it is often lumped in with other fan palms, such as the European fan palm (Chamaerops humilis) which it closely resembles.