Palm Trees

Well, my first big event (the tropical/jungle-themed baby shower) is a little more than 48 hours away!  I am busy creating 2.5′ and 5′ palm trees and making additional leaves and flowers to use on and around the dessert table and cupcake tower.  More pictures to follow!

So how do you make a palm tree??  Depends on the size…

Tall Palm Trees - 2.5' and 5' (little one is on fireplace hearth)

Mini Palms -- Using these for the top of a cupcake tower

Trunks:

For smaller trees (let’s cap them at 12″ or so), I use gift wrap rolls, paper towel cardboard, or even toilet paper rolls.  If the quality of the roll is substantial, I simply dent and crush the roll in places to create the texture of the trunk.  If the quality leaves something to be desired, I’ll use crumpled up brown paper stock to cover the roll — think ‘grocery bag’ for the most economical approach.  Squeeze the top of the roll until it is almost completely shut.  To make them stand, I insert a small plant stake or heavier gauge floral wire into the bottom of the tube and stabilize with a little bit of hot glue.  Insert into a small piece of floral foam (covered or not, depending on your project) and hot glue the foam to your project.

For larger trees, I like to use a much heavier cardboard stock — like the stuff they roll carpet on.  Home improvement stores will be more than willing to give you there rolls if you call and ask for them.  If carpet rolls are not an option, you can always use PVC piping.  Again another home improvement store item — but these won’t be free.  That said, they are definitely reasonably priced.  Personally, I’ll search high and low for the cardboard rolls as they can be shaped…not easily…but it can be done.  Wetting them and bending them a bit gives them a natural ‘lean’ that you see in real palm trees and make for a great effect when placing a few trees together.  Unfortunately PVC just isn’t pliable.  But…it’s always an option when the other is unavailable.  To ‘stand’ the trees, I place a dowel (or broom handle or curtain rod, or whatever will work) into a cheap Christmas tree stand and place the roll over it.  You can also use music stands without the tops, umbrella stands with a pole in the center, etc.  The key is to have something heavy (or something that can be weighted down) at the base…and don’t worry about seeing it — you can cover it with something that matches your decor — like a coordinating fabric or paper.

Now for the trunk effect…lunch bags…that’s it…simple.  Cut off the bottom of the bags and slide over the roll/pipe.  Hot glue the bottom to keep the first bag in place.  Now gently crumple the bag down to create a very cool looking palm trunk texture.  Add a little more glue at the top of the bag to keep it in place and continue until you cover the entire roll.  On a side note…using lunch bags may seem, well…boring.  The color may seem bland and monotonous — but believe me — by rumpling and crumpling the bags as you go, you are creating shading and character that looks anything but boring in the final design.  Up-light those babies and they will look beyond cool.

Leaves:

I like to use either card stock for smaller leaves or poster board for the larger ones.  For my current project I’m using poster board on both so they match.  Cut a palm shaped leaf — as we learned to do back in kindergarten, cutting symmetrical shapes is always easier when you first fold the paper in half.  If you are doubtful of your final shape, err on the side of ‘larger’…you can always trim away to shape the leaf after unfolding.  I usually freehand my leaves, so for me, I kind of back-in to the half-paper concept.  If I’m creating a ton of similar leaves, I cut and shape the first leaf and then fold it in half…I trim the excess to match the side I like better and use that leaf as the template going forward.  After cutting out your palm leaf shapes (5 or so for the larger trees — but you can use less for the smaller ones, if desired), you need to make them look like actual palm leaves.  To do that, I cut triangularly-inspired notches every so often up the side of each leaf.  AVOID making these notches symmetrical or similar in size!  If in doubt, take a look at images of real palm leaves for inspiration.  This is the step that actually makes your trees believable and separates them from a middle school project.  I attempt to not have any two leaves exactly alike.  Just let yourself go with this part…getting hung up on precision or perfection will not only make you crazy but will actually change the look of your project.

The final leaf-creating step is veining.  To create the look of veining, fold the leaf in half length-wise and crease with your finger or the side of a pencil.  Begin fan-folding from the bottom up.  Again, look at images of real palm leaves…the veins do not run horizontally from top to bottom but radiate from the center almost like sun rays.  For the best effect, fold the end in an almost vertical fashion — think about it in sections, using your notches as your guide.  While starting out, you might want to unfold and check out your progress from time to time.  I can tell you that folding poster board can be challenging so don’t worry about overdoing it.  It rarely rips, but if it does…no worries…palm leaves often have little rips and tears on the edges!

Once all of your leaves are folded, you can sporadically cut little slits along the edges to enhance the look.  Attach your leaf to a floral wire with hot glue and maybe even a little tape and you are ready to create your canopy!

Leaf Canopy:

At the dollar store, buy yourself an umbrella for each desired palm tree.  Remove the fabric or plastic cover from the umbrella so you are simply left with the metal frame.  Umbrellas are made very differently so if there are more than 5 metal arms you might have to fasten two together.  I use rubber bands to hold the arms together when necessary.  These cheap umbrellas are ideal for this application as they are easy to bend and manipulate.  Most of them have a little hole in the top-center.  Some times they are covered with plastic buttons, but they should be relatively simple to remove.  Place the long umbrella handle inside your palm tree trunk.  Insert the floral wire on your palm leaf into the hole and attach to the metal arm…I use a bit of hot glue and packing tape to make sure it stays put.  Once all of your leaves are attached, tweak them as necessary and remember…hot glue is your best friend in paper crafting.  If something is showing that you don’t want to show, simply bend a leaf part to cover it up and use your glue to keep it there.

Full View of Mechanics

Rubber Band Placement

Hole for Palm Leaves

So that’s about it…  I’ll make sure to post some pictures of the trees in their proper setting this weekend.  Hope y’all are having a fantastic week!

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6 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Mrs. V on September 12, 2011 at 5:23 AM

    I would like to thank you for your palm tree idea. I will be using it in my kindergarten class. We read a book called Chica Chica Boom Boom and I wanted to make a palm tree and this looks great. Thank you again. Kindergarten Teacher

    Reply

  2. Posted by Set/prop maker on March 27, 2013 at 12:15 PM

    I am working on props for my son’s school play of the Jungle Book. I am so excited to try these! I also am planning to use carpet roll cardboard for the trunks, I’m a little worried about how I’m going to get them sturdy enough to where they don’t tip over. lol Thanks for the great idea of the brown paper lunch bags, I didn’t think of that and they would be so much easier to crumple and make realistic looking. Can’t wait to get some made up.

    Reply

  3. Posted by Kathy on June 16, 2014 at 12:59 PM

    I am going to try this but I am going to use the “noodles’ the kids play with in swimming pools!

    Reply

  4. Posted by Lisa on September 13, 2014 at 9:35 AM

    Used the leaf and trunk idea for a parade float. AWESOME!!!! Thank you for sharing.

    Reply

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