Trachycarpus wagnerianus in Brazilian nurseries at an altitude of 800m.
Winter hardy palms from specialists collaborating with nurseries in Asia and Brazil

Trachycarpus is the number one palm in Europe!

Trachycarpus princeps is a rarity from China.

Exotic plants, especially hardy palms, are gaining in popularity. Herbert Riphagens palm business developed almost accidentally from an initial interest in palm seeds, which he exported from germination to Spain and Italy. He was among the first to trade with hardy palms and other sensitive exotics, such as Dicksonia antarctica and Musa sikkimensis, the Darjeeling banana.

The Dutchman Herbert Riphagen was born in Indonesia, where he spent his first years. Then he returned to the Netherlands with his family, and as he wanted to be involved with the family garden, he started to grow the Fatsia japonica (know to us as Finger plant) and found that it would survive -20°C. This experience encouraged him further; he bought Trachycarpus seeds over the internet and sold the surplus seedlings he produced. This way he developed contact with Spanish and Italian companies, who placed orders for 15000 - 20000 seedlings. Riphagen was therefore one of the first to trade in Trachycarpus wagnerianus. This plant is named after Albert Wagner, a garden designer from Leipzig, Germany, who introduced this fan-palm to Europe from Japan. Riphagen sent germinated seedlings to Spain and Italy where the plants were cultivated further and subsequently exported back to central Europe. Through his trading with palms he came into contact with large nurseries in Brazil which cultivated palms at altitudes of 800m above sea level, and where the temperature according to Riphagen drops to 2°C to 4°C every day. This brought him upon the idea of sending seedlings to Brazil, where they could be more economically cultivated. There they develop more quickly into strong, hardened plants, with thicker trunks than competing plants from China. This developed into an exclusive cooperation with the nursery.

From here, the Dutchman went on to import thick trunked Trachycarpus fortunei and other palms such as the indigenous Butia odorata, Butia eriospatha and other Butia species. Besides this, other genera and species were included in the company's assortment, such as various palms from South America, for example Chamaedorea, Lytocarium, Syagrus, Sabal and Trithrinax. Sea transport from these areas is just as expensive as land transport from Spain or Italy, but the plants from Brazil are stronger and hardier.

GardenPalms offers Trachycarpus wagnerianus with stripped trunks, where the mesh-like matting is pulled down and cut from the trunk.

His company has maintained a 600 m² exhibition garden in Heerde, Holland for 20 years and has noticed an increased demand for winter hardy palms in the last six years. This motivated Riphagen to acquire a high glasshouse with an area of 20000m2 in Erica, close to the border with Germany. This former rose nursery is equipped with a fully automated climate control system and can be controlled across the internet by the manager.


Herbert Riphagen explains that the low temperatures in the mountains in Southern Brazil causes the plants to develop strong, thick trunks.

The declared company objective is to cultivate, import and resell palms and to promote the use of winter hardy palms. In addition, Riphagen wishes to offer a complete assortment of winter hardy palms for the North European market. To this end he buys plants in various Asian countries and is drawing in a plethora of palm species. Among these, rarities such as Trachycarpus princeps, which is to be found only in a single, remote Chinese location. And according to Riphagen there are plants being bred which are not yet even classified!



To promote sales the company has had labels made. That of Trachycarpus wagnerianus shows the typical white edge to the leaf in winter weather.


Not long after the assortment was extended to include the tree fern Dicksonia from New Zeeland and the Darjeeling banana Musa sikkimensis from Bhutan. The Dicksonia is winter-hardy to around -8/- 9°C. The Yucca rostrata can survive temperatures to -18/-20°C, according to Riphagen. And the Musa sikkimensis is a species which should be as winter-hardy as the Musa basjoo (the Japanese banana), which can survive to -20°C. Seeds from this plant have attractive foliage, of which the upper leaf surface boast zebra-like stripes of dark lilac, red lilac and a yellow green - a property which offers an attractive contrast to the green leaves of the garden.


Every year GardenPalms cultivates around 250.000 seeds and 250.000 young plants, among which are rarities and not-yet classified plants.

Data about palm hardiness is mostly to be found in American literature. Unfortunately, it is generally dryer in the USA. Riphagen estimates that the Trachycarpus wagnerianus is hardy to around -20°C. One of the reasons for this being the 'number one' palm for Europe. -16°C should be no problem for Trachycarpus wagnerianus, but nevertheless he recommends protection from -12°C by tying the crown of leaves together. Plastic foil should never be used as the crown of the plant needs air circulation. Plant deaths are usually caused by being too dry for a long period of time. Some palms have their mesh-like tissue removed from their trunk by hand, which costs a day's labour. This work is done in Brazil. These plants have a distinct appearance and are reminiscent of coconut palms. As this tissue normally provides a measure of winter protection, Riphagen says that experience to date would suggest that plants treated in this way should have their trunks protected with reed or rush matting from -9°C. He cannot confirm reports that Trachycarpus wagnerianus is as hardy as Trachycarpus fortunei. It would appear that they are equivalent, yet Trachycarpus wagnerianus has smaller, stronger leaves which stand up to wind better. Also in the assortment are Jubaea chilensis (the Honey palm) which should be hardy to -12/-15°C. This plant needs at least 12°C to be able to grow. A cheaper bet is Butia eriospatha which will grow from 4 - 5°C and has therefore a longer growing season in for example Germany and The Netherlands.

Riphagen: "GardenPalms is committed to not only providing a wide assortment, but also a rich assortment of seedlings, young plants and mature plants". To this end he sows 400 000 palm trees of which around 250 000 seedlings are germinated. 50% of these are sold, the rest continue in cultivation. For the cultivation of young plants he recommends high culture pots with long grooves which prevent the roots 'corkscrewing'.

Plants from many countries are imported in 40-foot containers. Yearly around 20 such containers arrrive from Brazil, 10 - 20 from Asia, 10 from Tasmania and 1 to 2 from Mexico.

The company buys its own special fertiliser. Since palm trees have a low phosphorus requirement, he used mixtures with a nutrient ratio of 3:1:3 (N: P: K) and some iron and magnesium. As the imported trees have to form new roots at the trunk he has developed a new root-growth stimulant, called 'Palmbooster'.


Werner Oschek,
Deutsche Baumschule, Ausgabe 10

Herbert Riphagen imports Trachycarpus wagnerianus from Asian nursuries, where temperatures can drop to -18°C in winter.

Chamaerops humilis 'Cerifera' are hardy and are imported from Spain.

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