Palm trees are iconic to any dream tropical vacation destination. However, many people are unaware of their scale of diversity. Read on to learn about the various types of palm trees and how to grow some of them in your own house.
Browse through anyone's Instagram reel of their holiday to a tropical paradise. You'll notice that many palm trees against a clear sky will show up, usually without exception. With no palm trees, the sandy beaches remain bland, and there wouldn't be food for the various fauna that inhabit the locale.
However, several different varieties of palm trees exist worldwide. Some can live in places you least likely expect such a beautiful plant to survive. Others are so versatile that you can grow them in your backyard.
Thus, knowing about the different types of palm trees can help you upscale the ambiance of your abode. It may also provide you with a conversation topic the next time you plan a beach vacation.
Why Do People Call it a Palm Tree?
Contrary to popular belief, not all palm trees are actually "trees." Botanically, palm trees belong to the Arecaceae family of plants, the same one that includes bananas, bamboos, and sedges. Therefore, these plants can be herbs, shrubs, and climbers too.
The terminology of palm trees dates back to ancient civilizations. Literature from Egyptian, Mesopotamian, Latin, Hebrew, Arabic, and Greek scholars indicate they all referred to them as palm trees. The name came about from the Latin word 'Palma,' which means 'of the hand,' as the leaves resemble an outstretched palm of the human hand.
Palm trees usually grow in tropical and subtropical regions with high humidity and minimal temperature changes. These plants grow very slowly, with an average annual growth length of 15.3 cm (6"). They don't have deep-reaching roots and often prefer sandy or loamy soil.
All palm trees have two distinct leaf types called fonds. One of them extends outward from the stem, and the other grows at the tips of these fonds. The flowers of palm trees grow beneath the fonds, protecting them from potential external hazards. As for the stem, it gains protection from the weather and pests with leaf blades, sheath, petiole, and spines.
Where do Palm Trees Originally Come From?
Forensic scientists estimate that palm trees have been on Earth for more than 80 million years. That stretches back to the time when the dinosaurs roamed the planet. Palm plants are highly resilient to storms and can survive long, even with limited freshwater and nutrients. Most of them grow below 44° North and above 44° South.
Thus, the true origin of the palm depends upon the species you consider. For example, date palms are native to Egypt along the banks of the Nile. In contrast, the Fan palm comes from the Daintree rainforest in Australia, the oldest existing tropical lowland rainforest globally.
Palm trees were initially transported to the West as ornamental plants during the Victorian era. While these plants were popular in Asia and the Pacific, the Spanish missionaries brought the first samples to Los Angeles in the 18th Century. Over the decades, many species developed as palm trees adapted to the local ecosystem.
How Many Types of Palm Trees Exist?
Most people classify palm trees in two categories - those found in the desert and those found along the beach. But, the spectrum of palm plants expands much broader. Botanists estimate that as many as 2,600 different palm species exist today.
Yet, you should know that we won't discuss each one. Otherwise, this article will keep you busy for a week! Instead, we'll look into some of the most common varieties and try to understand what makes them stand out.
To keep things simple, you can observe them through four different habitations:
Outdoor Palm Trees
They are the ones that are the easiest to spot and pose for during your next vacation shoot. Despite the unstable wind conditions along most coastlines, outdoor palm trees grow primarily straight. Typically, they have a robust and thick stem, and the leaves are soft yet non-flammable. Some of the varieties you can spot on your favorite beaches might include the following:
Coconut Palm Tree
The coconut palm tree (Cocos nucifera) is the have-all, serve-all palm that you can find across many coastlines. Native to the Malay-Indo region, it has spread far and wide due to its nutritious fruits and multipurpose leaves and stem.
Coconut palm trees can reach heights past 25 m (80') during their lifetime. Many indigenous tribes across Asia and Africa rely on their cultivation for their daily bread. A single tree can yield up to 100 fruits per year, but 50 is often considered average for a season.
Bismarck palm trees broke through with popularity in the early 20th Century in the USA. It has the scientific name of Bismarckia Nobilis, coming from the Latin word for 'noble.' That stands to reason since the tree is named after Otto von Bismarck, the first chancellor of the German empire. It originally comes from Madagascar and prefers a Savanna-type climate that prevails in Florida.
These trees require consistent sunlight and can grow up to 21 m (70') tall. You can tell their health by the shade of white on the stem. The side of the stem has V-shaped panels that run into each other. It makes them easier to remove without hurting the tree.
Bamboo Palm Trees
As their name implies, bamboo palms form tall, slender trunks as they grow. Since they don't require much sunlight, you can grow bamboo palms in areas with shade or even inside covered buildings. Although, planting the tree outdoors reveals its proper vibrant form.
Bamboo palm plants don't grow too tall. They achieve a maximum height of 4.6 m (15'). But, it also means that they require less fertilizer to grow. Amateur gardens often make the mistake of providing too much fertilizer to the soil, which makes the bamboo palm wither out.
King Palm Tree
Commonly known as Alexandra palm or feather palm, the King palm tree is native to the island country of Australia. While many people incorrectly think of its name after Alexander the Great, the plant is actually named in honor of Princess Alexandra of Denmark.
The feathered leaves and smooth crown shaft are the iconic features of the King palm tree. The tree can reach over 20 m (66') in height, becoming a great addition to any landscape. They can nourish the soil over time to allow other flora to thrive.
Piru Palm Tree
This palm tree can easily exceed the height of 15.25 m (50') and need acidic soil to grow. Acidic soil ensures that the concentration of minerals remains high in the ground. Unlike other palm trees, the Piru palm requires generous amounts of water.
And it is not just the water in the soil, but in the air as well. Humidity is a crucial factor in ensuring healthy growth for Piru palms. They usually blossom during the summer season and have a strong bark with beautiful alternating stripe patterns.
California Fan Palm
This palm tree developed from the early ornamental plants brought over by the Spanish. California fan palm (Washingtonia filifera) is also called desert palm or simply California palm. It originally comes from the Western United States and Baja, Mexico.
A typical California palm tree can grow 20 m (66 ') tall and 6 m (20') wide. Most plants sprout up near streams and springs, keeping the leaves evergreen. The tree's fruits are a source of nutrition for many animals in the region, like the coyotes.
Canary Island Date Palm
A majestic palm tree with a stout trunk topped with a lush and expansive crown, the Canary Island date palm (Phoenix canariensis) is a sight to behold. It can grow up to 18 m (16') tall and 12 m (14') wide.
Mature trees have even more attractive features that make them ideal for a beachside resort or a botanical garden. They sprout creamy-yellow flowers in drooping panicles during hot summer months 0.9-1.2 m (3’-4') long. Since they are drought and salt tolerant, you don't require substantial upkeep to keep them healthy.
Buccaneer Palm Trees
The Buccaneer palm tree (Pseudophoenix sargentii) is a native palmetto of Florida and the Caribbean. While it grows extremely slowly, even by the standards of other palms, it is highly tolerant to wind and weather changes. The Buccaneer palm tree has a reduced water and minerals requirement.
A key feature of Buccaneer palm trees is their variation in appearance. They can have light green, dark green, bluish-green, or completely silver trunks. It is an excellent choice if you desire some diversity in your lawn without spending too much on separate palm seeds.
Royal Palm Trees
Commonly known as Cuban royal palm or Florida royal palm, Roystonea regia is one of the most expensive palm trees in the US. The tree can grow in clay, loamy, or sandy soil. You can even observe some specimens grow in the swamps of Eastern Florida.
Fully mature royal palm trees can grow 38 m (125') tall in the right conditions. The crown comprises 15 to 20 fronds, and there are occasional blooms of pretty yellow flowers. If you plant any young saplings, they can easily reach deep into the soil within three weeks. As their name suggests, royal palm trees require much more water and nutrients than other palms.
Queen Palm Trees
Here is another tall, beautiful palm variety that requires a lot of care to grow. Syagrus romanzoffiana has a thick branchless trunk with an elegant canopy of leaves. The fonds consist of glossy, pinnate leaves, and you can sometimes spot bright orange dates below the crown.
Queen palm trees require acidic soil to keep healthy. Fertilizers rich in manganese and iron are suitable for occasional use. Still, you need ample irrigation to avoid the trees drying up. They can achieve a maximum height of 15 m (50') when fully grown.
Indoor Palm Trees
There are varieties of palm that you can grow in your home if you get enough sunlight. Indoor palm trees are usually less expensive but require more care than their taller counterparts. Some of the common ones you can buy include the following:
The Kentia palm (Howea forsteriana) is also called the thatch palm or paradise palm. It is a low-maintenance plant with little need for sunlight. So, you can easily place it in a living room. Yet, you might want to adjust the couch and other furniture if you have limited space.
The leaves of this palm can grow 0.33 m (1') long on slightly arched fonds. Kentia is often pricey, limiting its display to only a few lavish households.
You might also know these as golden cane palm, yellow palm, or butterfly palm. A less expensive alternative to Kentia, Areca palms grow no taller than 1.83 m (6'). It makes them a more suitable option for those with limited space in their abode.
Areca has narrow leaves and slender trunks, making it seem like a bonsai version of the bamboo palm. Spring is the best season to begin cultivation, and you rarely need to trim or prune the leaves.
Cascade Cat Palm
Some individuals look for a flourishing plant that shows more of the feathery green fonds than the trunk. The Cascade Cat palm tree (Chamaedorea cataractarum) is an excellent choice for them. It grows about 2.5 m (8') tall when fully matured. To create a privacy screen or hedge, you can place the palms 0.9 m (3') apart.
You can grow Cascade Cat palms conveniently with other plants on your lawn, as they don't absorb too many nutrients or water. But, it would be best to use containers if you want to keep the growth fast.
The Sago palm (Cycas revoluta) offers an easy experiment to minimize the learning curve for those just starting in gardening. Its crown spreads by curving from the top, creating an exquisite umbrella pattern that can add to any ambiance.
You don't need to water Sago palms every week, but they need measures to protect them from pests. Infestations of scale bugs and spider mites are commonplace, which call for adequate amounts of pesticide.
This plant is iconic because of its razor-sharp leaves. Many people often refer to the Yucca palm (Yucca elephantipes) as the Spanish bayonet. Despite that, you can choose to separate the leaves from the plant carefully and boil them for food.
If you grow the Yucca palm in a container, its growth remains limited to 3 m (9.8'). If you put it in a bright enough location, you can even see some colorful yellow flowers blooming during the early spring.
Parlor palms (Chamaedorea Elegans) can become an addition to your house if you want a green tropical plant with little maintenance. It was first brought over from Mexico to England in the Victorian era due to its ability to grow with partial sunlight.
You can place parlor palms on most window sills since they are lightweight and don't grow more than 1.22 m (4') in height. No wonder it is the most popular palm species for households, costing much less than Kentia for a 15 cm (6") specimen.
Lady Palm Tree
Most people know this palm as Rhapis, after its scientific name Rhapis excelsa. You can quickly identify its dark green, shiny forward arching fronds. Most lady palms grow with a thick shrub and rarely go taller than 1.2 m (4').
You can easily use the lady palm plants to create a hedge enclosing an area by setting them 2.1 m (7') apart. They can grow in low-light areas but drastically reduce their growth speed.
Pygmy Date Palm
If you want a small date palm plant without messing up your finances, the Pygmy date palm (Phoenix roebelenii) can easily fit the bill. It is a small plant that rarely exceeds the height of 3 m (4'), even when grown outside.
Pygmy dates may not be as savory as more enormous palm trees, but you can grow them inside your apartment without much maintenance. The pineapple-style trunk and narrow leaves can be a unique addition to your living room.
The Scrub palmetto (Sabal etonia) has the maximum lifespan of any small palm plant. It can easily surpass 100 years while never growing more than 183 cm (6') in height. This is the hardiest palm species you can have in your backyard as far as tolerances go.
The Scrub palm can withstand temperatures as low as -4° C (24.8°F) without needing irrigation for weeks. A single Scrub palmetto can have more than 40 leaves on one spine. The seeds are easy to get and can begin germination within 3 to 4 weeks.
Formosa Palm Tree
Native to South Japan and Taiwan, the Formosa palm tree (Arenga engleri) occurs on the slopes of dense forests. It never grows taller than 5 m (16.4'), but its beauty makes up for it. Its leaves twist gracefully up the stem, creating an attractive pattern at the crown.
A Formosa tree can withstand temperatures as low as -3.9º C (25º F) for short durations. It has high tolerances for drought and salt. It might bloom some great-smelling flowers every so often that eventually turn into fruits. But, you should not consume them since they can prove toxic.
Belmore Sentry Palm
The casual eye may often confuse it with Kentia, but the Belmore sentry palm (Howea Belmoreana) has some clear distinctions from its cousin. It can grow as high as 2.5 m (8'), making it suitable for an open area like a pool, courtyard, or party hall.
The Belmore sentry palm lives up to its name as it resembles a sentry standing firm for the safety of all inhabitants. You may grow it in some shade, but remember not to put it in direct sunlight.
Its scientific name is Ravenea rivularis and is quite common in the Middle East. Its growth is slow, and you can grow it without exposure to sunlight. It remains less than 3.3 m (10') in height and finds humid air quite suitable.
You can easily plant this through a container near the kitchen or the bathroom. A majesty palm requires Epsom salts rich in magnesium. Once the plant reaches the desired height, you can pause the fertilizer to pause its growth.
Container Palm Trees
A few types of palm trees are only suitable to grow in specific containers. It makes them easier to move and prevents excessive water that might drown the plants. Container palms don't grow tall, so they are a favorite for many homes with limited space. You can find some notable species below:
The most iconic of all container palms, the bottle palm (Hyophorbe lagenicaulis) gets its name due to the structure of its trunk. It looks like a bulging water bottle. Bottle palms usually grow up to 3 m (10'), although you can reduce fertilizer usage even further.
The fonds of bottle palms can grow as much as 3.6 m (12') with long leaflets of up to 0.6 m (2'). While they can quickly achieve healthy growth during summers, you need to move them during colder months.
The fishtail palm (Caryota mitis) gets its name from its uniquely shaped foliage. Though you would not guess it is a feather palm due to its highly distinctive look and dark-green leaves.
Fishtail palms prefer a warm climate and don't require much care or maintenance. Many botanists consider them an invasive species, so you should only grow them in potted containers.
Red Feather Palm
This palm gets its name from its uniquely colored leaves that seem as if they are on fire. This is why this palm is also called flamethrower or red leaf palm. The leaves take on a bright green color after a few weeks.
The red feather palm (Chambeyronia macrocarpa) is native to the rainforests of New Caledonia. It can achieve a maximum height of 3.6 m (12') upon maturity. Experts advise keeping it away from colder temperatures so that the plant remains healthy.
Chinese Windmill Palm
Also simply called the Windmill palm, Trachycarpus fortunei is native to China and Japan. It is a perennial palm that can grow up to 20 m (66'). But, when grown inside a container, you can limit the size to 3.6 m (12').
Many people often associate Windmill palms with good fortune. It is a tradition in numerous households to plant one after a successful venture or the birth of a child. It is a highly tolerant plant that can withstand the colds of Alaska, Canada, and Russia.
European Fan Palm
It has the scientific name Chamaerops and is also called the Mediterranean Dwarf palm. You can store them in containers to enhance the beauty of any home. They command attention thanks to their beautiful fond patterns that spread out from the stem, like the petals of a flower.
The European fan palm achieves a maximum height of 3 m (10') when growing inside a container. The stem has a distinctive texture that goes well with Mahogany or Sheesham wood furniture. It is one of the few palm varieties that can survive cold temperatures of -12° C (10.4° F).
Also called the red wax sealing palm, the lipstick palm (Cyrtostachys Renda) gets its name from its iconic scarlet-red tree trunk. It also has long pinnate leaves, greenish flowers, and dark bluish-black fruits that further add to its appeal.
In its native territory, the lipstick palm can grow as high as 15.24 m (50'), but you can limit the height to 6 m (20') by cultivating it in containers. Unlike most other palms, the lipstick palm requires moist, loamy soil.
It is a common subtropical palm variety with broad leaves. The Diamond Joey (Johannesteijsmannia altifrons) is a palm shrub that you can spot in many upscale gardens. It has the largest leaf size of any palm variety in the world. Fully mature plants can have a leaf span of 6 m (20').
The Diamond Joey has deep roots since it natively belongs to the rainforests of Thailand and Malaysia. Since there is no trunk, you need to provide a container that offers ample protection against the weather and pests.
Cold Tolerant Palm Trees
The common notion of the location of palm trees is a sunny, tropical paradise. Yet, some species challenge that image, capable of withstanding the harshest of winters. You can find a few common varieties explained in detail below:
Chinese Fan Palm
Due to its trunk shape, the Chinese fan palm (Livistona Chinensis) is also called the fountain palm. It gets its name from its dark green, fan-shaped leaves. Growing this plant is common among many reputed educational institutions in China and Japan.
The lesson that perhaps most people can learn from this plant is that it is a survivor. The Chinese fan palm can survive in a wide range of conditions, from droughts that exceed 35° C (95°F) to the cold of -10° C (14° F).
Pindo Palm Tree
You might know it better as a jelly palm tree. The Pindo palm (Butia capitata) is a highly tolerant, slow-growing palm species. You can quickly identify it via its wide chunky trunk and blue leaves.
This palm can grow 9.1 m (30') tall in ideal conditions. However, some specimens grow 6 m (20') in height, even at temperatures as low as 5° C (41° F).
Often confused with the Chinese fan palm, the saw palmetto (Serenoa repens) grows to 3 m (10') even without its trunk. The critical difference is that the saw palm has more open and arched leaves.
Many gardeners prefer this palm due to its leaf span and high tolerance to low temperatures. It can create a canopy a few feet off the ground for smaller shrubs and herbs. At the same time, its growth remains sustained in the cold weather reaching -17° C (0° F).
Also known as Sabal palm or cabbage palmetto, Garfield's tree (Lupinus Garfieldensis) can grow up to 20 m (65') tall. You can locate it along the coastlines present in the Eastern United States and the Gulf of Mexico.
Thanks to its sturdy trunk, this palm has a high tolerance to wind, pests, and weather. So much so that it has achieved some renown in the history books. In 1776, General William Moultrie led the Charleson patriots during the American Revolutionary War. They successfully defended against the British advance by building a fort from Sabal palm trunks.
You may want a small palm that you can grow in your house without worrying about the weather. If so, the needle palm (Rhapidophyllum hystrix) is the ideal choice. It doesn't require much maintenance and grows no taller than 3 m (10'). You can have it out even in temperatures as low as -15° C (5° F).
The needle palm gets its name from its sharp, needle-like leaves that point away from the stem. It doesn't have any serious pest or disease-related issues. You don't need much equipment in stock, but adding a magnesium-rich fertilizer in the spring is a good idea.
Myola Palm Tree
This one is a species native to the Australian rainforests. The Myola palm tree (Archontophoenix myolensisc) is a beautiful plant that can grow up to 20 m (66') upon maturity. While it may survive temperatures as low as -5° C (23° F), Myola is vulnerable to weeds and other invasive species of plants.
This palm tree has made the IUCN list of vulnerable plant species. Habitat destruction and lack of government efforts for conservation have only exacerbated the situation. As of 2021, only a few thousand native specimens were left in Queensland.
Where are Palm Trees Most Commonly Found?
Indonesia has the highest number of palm trees. In 2021 alone, the country produced over 270,000 palm trees. Palm oil export is a significant contributor to Indonesia's GDP. The industry employs more than 3 million people and exports an average of 30 million tons of palm oil to many big companies. However, there has been a push for limiting the practice amidst environmental concerns.
Los Angeles is the city with the highest number of palm trees globally. You can find a palm tree every 30.5 m (100') across most streets in Pasadena. The area of Palm Springs alone has over 20,000 palm trees, including species of date palms, coconut palms, and ornamental palms.
Additionally, there are some well-known tropical destinations that you can visit to get the perfect sunset pictures with palm trees:
When you think of beach vacations, few other places can beat the paradise of Hawaii. Although palm trees are abundant here, the diversity is limited to only a handful of species. It is a shame because the lava soil is rich in nutrients and can support a wide range of flora. The palm varieties you can find here include:
- Coconut palm trees
- Bismarck palm
- Fishtail palm
- Traveler’s palm
- MacArthur palm
The Sunshine State has several introduced and native types of palm trees. You can find some growing naturally along the coast. Many hotels and casinos live up to the state's reputation by planting a few variants indoors. Some common species in Florida are:
- Bottle palm
- Christmas palm
- Chinese fan palm
- Red Feather palm
- Bamboo palm
California was the state that quite literally laid the roots of palm trees in North America. Palm plants are so widespread that you can find more than 40 restaurants and hotels having the word “palm” in their name. Some of the most common varieties in California are:
- King palm
- Kentia palm
- Pindo palm
- Myola palm
- Beach palm
- Alexandra palm
- Formosa palm
The stable climate of the Mediterranean makes the region suitable for over 100 different species of palm trees. The coastal areas of Portugal, France, and Italy have the most diverse range of palm trees in all of Europe. Some common varieties include:
- Mediterranean fan palm
- Queen palm
- California fan palm
- Triangle palm
- Chinese fan palm
- Mexican blue fan palm
Australia has some vibrant beaches that contain several species of palms. With several biomes present within a single landmass, it offers support for various species, both inland and coastal. The state of Queensland stands out with more than 200 species of native and invasive varieties. Some of the most prominent ones include:
- Washington palm
- Foxtail palm
- Cuban royal palm
- Myola palm
- Garfield’s tree
- Wine palm
- European fan palm
The Middle East
Palm trees are not just part of the environment of the Middle East but their cultural heritage as well. Citizens of ancient Babylon (current day Iraq) associated date palms with the goddess Ishtar. There are mentions of palm trees in the holy texts of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. Some of the most common varieties include:
- Mazari palm
- European fan palm
- Date palm
- Gingerbread tree palm
- Argun palm
Several varieties of palm trees grow in Southeast Asian countries of China, India, South Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia, Taiwan, Sri Lanka, and Japan. Palm trees play a crucial role in the economy and the cultural heritage of these countries. A few species you can conveniently locate here include:
- Nipa palm
- Chinese Windmill palm
- Formosa palm
- Coconut palm
- African oil palm
- Raffia palm
- Coconut palm
Benefits of Palm Trees
In addition to the spectacular visuals, palm trees can benefit any environment. Such benefits include, but don't limit to, the following -
- The edible fruits of palm trees are rich in antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. Several dieticians consider them superfoods, enabling you to prevent complications like diabetes, constipation, kidney stones, and cosmetic issues.
- Palm trees are an organic source of fabrics for interior accessories like mats and furniture, particularly in the indigenous communities of Asia and Africa.
- Palm oil is a raw material that many international industries highly regard. It is a significant ingredient in producing vegetable oil, chocolates, pastries, palm sugar, soft beverages, detergents, cosmetics, and, to some extent, biofuel.
- These trees provide natural shade and firewood without harming any flora or fauna in the vicinity.
- Many species of rare animals rely on palm trees for their diet and shelter.
How to Grow Palm Trees in Your Home?
Most palm trees require fewer nutrients and sunlight than other plants. Thus, they are much easier to plant and care for in your home. Some desert varieties can remain healthy for weeks without water.
Potting and repotting palm plants can severely damage the roots. It is why you should start planting from seeds instead of saplings.
- Place the seed in a container at least 10 cm (4") deep. Ensure that the soil you use has ample drainage so that you do not flood the palmetto.
- Put in the container in a warm, humid location. Palm usually remains healthy at a temperature above 10° C (50° F). Wait for seeds to sprout. Depending on the species, it might require up to 2 months.
- Once the seeds sprout, you can locate the container in a place with plenty of sunlight. Help the palm grow with adequate amounts of fertilizer rich in potassium and manganese. Water the plant occasionally for the next 4-6 months.
- After some time, you may observe that the plant has grown too large for its seeding containers. It is time to carefully relocate the palmetto to your lawn or put it in a larger container.
Palm trees grow very slowly, so you need to give them some time before they can bear fruits or flowers. An average palm can age past 70 years. Although, you don't need excessive supplies stocked since you don't need to put in too much fertilizer or pesticide. Neem oil is an excellent additive to keep away spider mites, mealybugs, and scale insects.
Why are Palm Trees So Expensive?
Palm trees may grow resilient, but their saplings and seeds are very delicate. Some can swiftly wither without much water content. Therefore, they require careful transportation and storage, which shoots up the price of palm trees to quite some extent. The exact cost depends upon the species you want to plant.
If you're looking to add some niche to your garden, palm trees can grant you the exceptional touch. They can enhance the aesthetics regardless of what other greenery you have. In addition, they are well worth it if you want to care for an endangered species. We hope you gained some insightful information through this piece.