Also known as queen palm, the cocos palm (Syagrus romanzoffiana) is an elegant palm that grows up to 50 feet tall, showcasing a narrow gray trunk topped with dark, lacy evergreen fronds that may be up to 10 feet long. The leaves are accented by bright orange date fruits, which hang in clusters. The cocos palm requires specific conditions to look its best. In some locations this palm has the potential to become invasive.
A native of South America, the cocos palm loves warm weather and grows in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 9b through 11. It will grow in full sun or light shade. The palm will experience cold damage if temperatures drop to 25 degrees Fahrenheit, and it will die if temperatures plummet around 20 to 16 F. It is particularly suitable for coastal regions, tolerating salty soils and thriving in cool, moist winds.
The cocos palm is quite picky about soil, requiring an acidic, exceptionally well-draining soil. The young leaves are stunted in alkaline soil, while older leaves may show severe chlorosis, an unattractive, sickly yellowing. A lack of manganese causes a leaves to look frayed, a condition nicknamed "frizzle top." Floridata recommends fertilizing twice a year with a fertilizer rich in manganese and other micronutrients. Spread 1 to 3 pounds of manganese sulfate beneath the tree. Foliar sprays containing iron and/or manganese may also be necessary to combat chlorosis.
Though somewhat drought-tolerant, the cocos palm's appearance and growth is drastically improved with frequent watering throughout the growing season. Dead fronds stay on the tree, and should be pruned off regularly to keep the palm looking neat and tidy. Cocos palm may be propagated by seeds, which generally germinate in three to four months. Seedlings often appear on their own under mature trees. You can dig these up and throw them away, or pot them up to form new trees.
The palm leaf skeletonizer is a foliage-feeding caterpillar that can cause noticeable damage. It leaves telltale brown droppings on the foliage and under the tree. The pest may be removed by spraying colonies with a high pressure hose. Ganoderma butt rot is a fatal fungal disease that has no treatment. The best prevention is to keep the palm healthy and avoid causing any injury to the trunk and roots. Be especially careful when mowing or pruning near the tree.