A bottle palm is a palm tree with a very unusually-shaped trunk. As the name implies, bottle palms have a swollen trunk which does indeed look rather like a bottle, topped with a cluster of about eight fronds. At a distance, a bottle palm looks like a poorly-devised arrangement of greens rammed into a bottle of chianti, making the sight rather unforgettable.
These trees are native to Round Island, a small island located within the nation of Mauritius. Round Island also hosts a number of other unique plants and animals, many of which are unfortunately endangered. In its native environment, the bottle palm is almost extinct, but the trees are widely used in decorative gardening all over the world, so the species is likely to remain hardy for generations to come. Some conservationists have suggested that bottle palms could be replanted on Round Island at some point in the future.
This palm is known formally as Hyophorbe lagenicaulis, and to French speakers as palmiste gargoulette. Bottle palms grow extremely slowly, and they are very sensitive to fluctuations in temperature. Frost will kill bottle palms, and the trees prefer to live in environments where the temperature is always well above freezing. Contrary to popular belief, the swollen trunk does not actually contain water: it's just the way the tree grows.
People who want to use bottle palms in ornamental gardens should live between USDA zones 10 and 11. Bottle palms need full sun to part shade, preferring an environment which is isolated from the wind. They are capable of coping with very poor soil conditions and salt spray, thanks to the harsh environment of Round Island, but caring for a bottle palm with good soil and a fertilizer will encourage the tree to stay healthy and grow more quickly.
Some people use bottle palms in container gardening, where they do quite well. Thanks to the slow rate of growth, it takes a long time for a tree to outgrow a container, and the use of containers allows people to move the trees as needed. In cooler climates, for example, a bottle palm can be kept indoors during inclement weather, and moved outdoors for the warm summer months. Bottle palms also do well in indoor tropic gardens, as long as they get lots of sun.