How to Identify Species of Palm Trees - Owlcation - Education
Updated date:

How to Identify Species of Palm Trees

Author:

Palm Trees—Beautiful and Exquisite

One of the most beautiful and exquisite trees in the world is the palm tree. For many, the palm tree is most commonly thought of as that traditional long trunk specimen with coconuts hanging under its majestic fronds which are traditionally found in the tropics such as Hawaii, Bahamas, and the Caribbean.

The surprising reality is that there are over 2,600 species of palm trees, and even more surprisingly, there are some species of palm trees that are bred to withstand temperate climates including cold winters.

Palm trees are very popular when it comes to landscaping. They are frequently used to create a garden oasis for hotels, condominiums, homes, and businesses.

Palm trees are identified and named because of the familiar and distinguished characteristics of their fan-shaped or palmate fronds, unique trunks, amazing height and growth rates, and their stems.

How to Identify Species of Palm Trees

How to Identify Species of Palm Trees

How to Identify the Right Palm Tree Species for Your Area

When identifying palm trees, you want to look for the characteristics of a palm species that will be suitable for the climate in your area and in some cases, the soil condition.

Look at the Fronds

The first thing you will want to look at when identifying your palm tree are the fronds. Are they fan-shaped or feather-like (pinnate)? Also, determined the color of the fronds, most of the time they will be green, but there are fronds that will have more of a bluish-green shade or a silvery-grey shade to them.

The Trunk’s Appearance

By studying the trunk of the palm tree, you will be able to see if there is only a single trunk that extends from the ground or several trunks that are clustered together. (The multi-trunk species of palm trees are usually shorter than the single trunk species.)

There are some species of palm trees that will exhibit smooth trunks with visible scarring from old fronds that have fallen off as the tree continues to grow. Others will exhibit trunks that have old fronds that have laid down creating a crosshatch pattern which gives the tree a hairy appearance.

The Height of a Palm Tree

Depending on the climate and the species, palm trees have the ability to grow as tall as 100 feet. These particular species grow rapid in a tropical climate. In much cooler or temperate zones, the “Dwarf Species” will manage to reach a height of only about 10 feet.

Examining the Stems

The stems or “petioles” (the stalk that joins a leaf to a stem; leafstalk) will display teeth, spines, or thorns. This is a great indicator of what type of palm tree you are looking at and decide which the best species for your area is.

Are your Palms in the Right Zone?

With so many different varieties of the palm tree, it is very important to know which species will thrive in your area (or zone).

The easiest and best way to find out is to check with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) hardiness zone for your area.

Here you can compare the characteristics of a palm with the descriptions of which palms can be grown in your zone. It will show you how some palms will thrive only in zone 10 or 11, while other species can thrive in more northern zones such as zone 7 or 6.

USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map

USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map

USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map

Areca Palms come from the Arecaceae family, also referred to as bamboo palm, golden cane palm, and butterfly palm.

Areca Palms come from the Arecaceae family, also referred to as bamboo palm, golden cane palm, and butterfly palm.

Areca Palms

Areca Palms come from the Arecaceae family, also referred to as bamboo palm, golden cane palm, and butterfly palm. It is a species of flowering plants and a native to Madagascar.

These beautiful palms are considered ornamental and are used in gardens that are found in tropical and subtropical regions. Areca Palms are often used as indoors as a houseplant.

Areca palms have multiple silver-green trunks at the base that are topped with yellowish-green pinnate leaves on yellow petioles (the stalk that joins a leaf to a stem; leafstalk). They have the ability to grow to a height of 20-40 feet and can also be wider than they are tall. If you look at the base of an Areca palm, you will notice multiple stem growth. The leaves are approximately 6’ – 10’ long and are arched beautifully representing butterfly wings.

The Areca Palm produces small bright yellow flowers during late spring to early summer. After 2-3 months of blooming, light greenish-yellow fruit are produced and eventually turn yellow-orange when ripe.

The Areca Palm produces small bright yellow flowers during late spring to early summer. After 2-3 months of blooming, light greenish-yellow fruit are produced and eventually turn yellow-orange when ripe.

Are There Palm Trees in Your Life?

Characteristics of the Areca Palm

  • Appearance
    The smooth silver-green trunks of the Areca Palm grow in clusters of many stems which are topped with feather-shaped fronds that arch outward. The butterfly appearance is created with approximately 7-8 yellowish-green leaves on long petioles that curve upward. Each leaf has approximately 100 leaflets that are arranged in the shape of a “V.”
  • Flowers/Fruits
    The Areca Palm produces small bright yellow flowers during late spring to early summer. These flowers are found below the leaves, and after 2-3 months of blooming, light greenish-yellow fruit are produced and eventually turn yellow-orange when ripe. Oval-shaped and 1” in diameter, this pretty fruit is not edible.
  • Growth Rate
    The Areca Palm grows at a moderate pace that can reach a height of 20 ft tall. However, the Areca Palm will grow wider before it grows taller.
  • Indoor/Outdoor Use
    The Areca Palm is perfect as an indoor plant. As outdoor plants, it is commonly used as a natural privacy wall.
  • Cold Tolerance/Zones
    The Areca Palm can tolerate cold climates as low as 20F after it has reached its maturity. Ideal for zones 9a (20-25F) to 11 (above 40F).
  • Maintenance
    The Areca Palm requires moderate maintenance. You will notice that the tips of the Areca Palm tree will turn brown. However, this is very normal. You do need to be careful when pruning the Areca Palm and prune only the dead branches. If you clip the brown tips, this will stop the growth of the palm tree and even perhaps kill it.

    The Areca easily maintains its regal appearance. However, it is vulnerable to the spider mite. If the spider mite is visible, try spray misting the plant with soapy water.

Bismarck Palms

The Bismarck Palm is a favorite in Florida. Also a member of the Arecaceae family, it is also known as the Bismark Palm, Bismarckia Palm, Nobilis Palm.

A native palm to the island of Madagascar, this massive palm is perfect for any landscaping effect, especially when using it as a screening, placed for shading, and especially as a focal point. Its majestic fronds are silvery in color and grown vertically from toothed petioles. They have the ability to grow 40 feet tall.

The Bismarck Palm is tolerant to cold temperatures reaching down to 15F. Some of the most popular states that the Bismarck Palm can be grown are Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, Oregon, and Texas.

Bismarck Palms are known for their silvery fronds which grow vertically from toothed petioles.

Bismarck Palms are known for their silvery fronds which grow vertically from toothed petioles.

Characteristics of the Bismarck Palm

  • Appearance
    The Bismarck Palm is known for its single smooth trunk. The wide fan-shaped fronds will form a spherical crown. There will generally be anywhere from 25-40 fronds. The leaves are waxy and are supported by very thick stems measuring anywhere from 7-10 feet long and up to 10 inches in diameter and covered with small sharp saw-teeth. The leaves are a beautiful silvery-green shade and can easily reach up to 10 feet across.
  • Flowers/Fruits
    Small fragrant flowers are produced late spring. The Bismarck Palm is dioecious, meaning that female and male flowers are on different plants. Cream flowers are formed in clusters and grown on 3ft long stalks which eventually will bend downwards from the weight of the fruit. Blue flowers produce non-eatable blue fruits which are oblong and up to an inch in diameter.
  • Growth Rate
    Bismarck Palms can reach a domestic growth of up to 40 feet tall and 25 feet wide. When grown in the wild, the Bismarck Palm will reach a majestic height of 70 feet tall. It is considered a fast growing palm and will grow anywhere from 3 to 20 feet in a 5-year span.
  • Indoor/Outdoor Use
    The Bismarck Palm can be grown both indoors and outdoors. It is often used as an ornamental palm and can be grown quite easily in pots.
  • Cold Tolerance/Zones
    The Bismarck Palm is a very cold hardy plant and will tolerate cold down to 15F.Perfect for zones 8b (15-20F) and 11 (above 40F)
  • Maintenance
    This palm is very low maintenance and requires minimum care and water. The Bismarck Palm is virtually disease free.
The Chinese Fan Palms, also known as Chinese Fountain Palms and Fountain Palms are also from the Arecaceae family. These beautiful palms are known for their short fat trunks with a grayish overtone.

The Chinese Fan Palms, also known as Chinese Fountain Palms and Fountain Palms are also from the Arecaceae family. These beautiful palms are known for their short fat trunks with a grayish overtone.

Chinese Fan Palms

The Chinese Fan Palms, also known as Chinese Fountain Palms and Fountain Palms are also from the Arecaceae family. These beautiful palms are known for their short fat trunks with a grayish overtone. The trunks are marked with scars that are produced by old fronds. The petioles (the stalk that joins a leaf to a stem; leafstalk) are thorny, and the fronds range in color of bluish-green to a subtle olive green. The fan-shaped fronds can reach anywhere up to 5ft wide. This popular palm is native to China and southern Japan.

The Chinese Fan Palm grows yellowish-cream flowers which are followed by small oval fruits that are about 1 inch long. The green fruits will turn dark blue or blue-gray when ripe.

The Chinese Fan Palm grows yellowish-cream flowers which are followed by small oval fruits that are about 1 inch long. The green fruits will turn dark blue or blue-gray when ripe.

Characteristics of the Chinese Fan Palm

  • Appearance
    The Chinese Fan Palm has one single straight trunk approximately 17 – 20” in diameter with old leaf scars produced by old fronds. The trunk is crowned with a dense evergreen or fan-shaped leaves that droop in a downward fountain-like effect. The large and slightly segmented leaves can grow up to about 5ft long and 6ft wide.
  • Flowers/Fruits
    The Chinese Fan Palm grows yellowish-cream flowers which are followed by small oval fruits that are about 1 inch long. The green fruits will turn dark blue or blue-gray when ripe.
  • Growth Rate
    The Chinese Fan Palm has a very slow growth rate but can grow faster if fertilized. It can grow up to 50ft tall but usually doesn’t get any taller than 20-40 ft and 5-15ft wide
  • Indoor/Outdoor Use
    The Chines Fan Palm can be grown both indoors and outdoors. It is often used as an ornamental palm and can be grown quite easily in pots.
  • Cold Tolerance/Zones
    The Chinese Fan Palm is a cold hardy plant that can tolerate temperatures as low as 10F. Perfect for growing in USDA Zones 8a (10 to 15F) to 11 (above 40F).
  • Maintenance
    The Chinese Fan Palm is very easy to maintain. The palm is used often as an ornamental piece in pots as well as outdoor in a manicured garden.

    This palm requires moderate watering in moist, but well-drained soil. It loves partial shade to full sun areas.

Additional popular palms with Characteristics

The list is endless when it comes to the variety and species of the palm tree. There are many wonderful books and garden websites that can help you further in your search for the right palms. The Areca Palm, the Bismarck Palm, and the Chinese Fan Palm listed above provides you with examples of what pertinent information you need when trying to decide what palms to plant. Below are a few more palms along with a short list of their characteristics to help give you an idea of what to look for when deciding what palm species to plant in your area.

Bottle Palm Dwarf - Not cold hardy and will not tolerate frost. Ideal for USDA Zones 10a (30-35F) to 11 (above 40F)

Bottle Palm Dwarf - Not cold hardy and will not tolerate frost. Ideal for USDA Zones 10a (30-35F) to 11 (above 40F)

Bottle Palm Dwarf

  • Native to the Mascarene Islands
  • Single “bottle-shaped” trunk (2ft in diameter), ring scars, green crownshaft top
  • Feather-like leaves that grow up to 10ft
  • Produces white flowers followed by black berry-like oval-shaped fruits
  • Slow growing palm that will reach between 10-20 ft tall and 10-15 wide
  • Can be grown indoors in a pot as well as outdoors within your landscaping
  • Not cold hardy and will not tolerate frost. Ideal for USDA Zones 10a (30-35F) to 11 (above 40F)
  • Loves shade and can survive in full sun with plenty watering
  • Easy to maintain. Will survive in any type of soil but likes well-drained soil best
Flowers are followed by fruits called “coconuts”. Coconut is one of the most recognizable and most useful fruits in the world.

Flowers are followed by fruits called “coconuts”. Coconut is one of the most recognizable and most useful fruits in the world.

Coconut Palm

  • Native to the South Pacific.
  • Long single gray trunks and long pinnate leaves.
  • Well known for growing coconuts all year long, beginning at the age of 6-10 for 80 years.
  • Moderate growth rate. Can grow up to 100ft, but usually will grow 20-30ft.
  • Can be grown in pots as well as outdoors.
  • Loves warm climate and will not tolerate temperature below 20F. Great for growing in USDA Zones 9a (20-25F) to 11 (Above 40F).
  • Low-moderate maintenance. Grows best in well-drained soils but will also tolerate drought.
The Lipstick Palm is also known as Sealing Wax Palm, Rajah Palm, and Red Sealing Wax Palm.

The Lipstick Palm is also known as Sealing Wax Palm, Rajah Palm, and Red Sealing Wax Palm.

Lipstick Palm

  • Native to Malaysia and also known as the Red Sealing Wax Palm.
  • Brilliant red-orange crownshaft. Multiple clusters of slender, smooth trunks that are slightly swollen at the base.
  • Feather-like dark green leaves that grow outward and approximately 2ft.
  • Produces green flowers on long stalks below the crownshaft and followed by small shiny non-edible fruits that turn black when ripe.
  • Growth rate is slow-moderate and can grow up to 50ft tall.
  • Perfect for pots and grown indoors as an ornamental plant as well as outdoors
  • Not cold hardy. Perfect year-round temperatures range from 75-85F. Ideal for growing in USDA Zones 10b (35-40F) to 11 (above 40F).
  • Loves partial shade to full sun and moderate maintenance is required.

Comments: How to Identify Species of Palm Trees

Liz Rayen (author) from California on July 31, 2020:

That's awesome Jennifer!

Jennifer on July 31, 2020:

Palm trees will be I heaven...They are mentioned in the Bible, that’s what I live about them. That gives me comfort.❤️

Gary on September 18, 2019:

I have a palm the leaves are very large. Did not see on the above list

Liz Rayen (author) from California on September 06, 2019:

Hi Ravel,

Possibly, but not always. It all depends if it is a fruit bearing tree.

As I suggested to Carol below, you can take a picture of the tree (preferably) with the flowers if they are still blooming, and take it to your local nursery for positive identification. Have a great day!

Ravel on September 01, 2019:

My tree grows white flowers. Will these become fruit?

Linda on August 04, 2019:

I have a palm that showed up in my yard without being planted. The fronds are palmate with something that looks like strings hanging from them. Any idea what it is - it's in a small planted and I would like to know how big it will grow. Thank you.

Liz Rayen (author) from California on June 20, 2019:

Hi Carol,

I really don't want to give you misinformation. Perhaps you can check with your local nursery to find out the correct species. If they are not sure, they would/should have the resources to find out and what zone they are safe in. (hope this is helpful)

Have a wonderful evening!

Liz

Carol Jensen on May 23, 2019:

I have 2 palm trees that are tall and skinny. Got them 51 years ago in Arizona on our honeymoon Not sure what they are. wonder if they would live outside in Salem, Oregon. We had 3, but when our son died his died.

Liz Rayen (author) from California on January 15, 2019:

Hi Don,

It's hard to identify without a picture. At first I thought maybe Date Palm.. or perhaps one of the exotic palms that are grown in places like Jamaica. I'm sorry I can't be any more help to you. I will keep looking though and see id I can find what you are describing. Have a blessed day!

Don S on January 14, 2019:

I have a fan palm with 1/2 inch round black fruit. The base of the leaves at the single trunkcriss cross and are Black and Tan. Can you help identify?

I

Liz Rayen (author) from California on January 20, 2014:

poetrymsn6969... Florida has an abundance of species. The tropics are perfect for such :)

poetryman6969 on December 08, 2013:

I remember seeing several of these varieties when I lived in Florida.

Liz Rayen (author) from California on September 07, 2013:

Thank you so much cmoneyspinner1tf ! I'm glad you enjoyed it. Thank you for the share as well. Have a blessed day ♥

Treathyl FOX from Austin, Texas on August 31, 2013:

This article was better than looking up info in a boring encyclopedia. I will share this link.

Liz Rayen (author) from California on April 30, 2013:

Thank you pinto. I agree! The fascination with palms is strong I think because of the many different species and uses. Mahalo for your comment and the Thumbs up!

Subhas from New Delhi, India on April 30, 2013:

I think all over the world people are fascinated by palm trees and by making them know about them you have increased the attachment. Thumbs up!

Liz Rayen (author) from California on April 29, 2013:

Thank you Deb (aviannovice). I love date palms myself. We have a lot of date palms here in California. ♥

Liz Rayen (author) from California on April 29, 2013:

Thank you so much Ruchira! It was a fascinating subject to research. I'm glad you enjoyed it and found it useful. ♥

Deb Hirt from Stillwater, OK on April 29, 2013:

Great info, Lisa. I would love to have a date palm!

Ruchira from United States on April 29, 2013:

I love palm tress and you have provided an extensive hub on it.

Loved getting more information in regards to it.

Voted up as useful and interesting, Lisa :)

Liz Rayen (author) from California on April 29, 2013:

Thank you Peggy! Texas is a great zone as well for palms. There are quite a few palms that actually to quite well in dry and drought conditions. Thanks so much for the pin as well! ♥

Liz Rayen (author) from California on April 29, 2013:

Ahhh Natashalh.. I hope this helps you to not shrug so much from now on! SC is a great zone for palms as well because of the humidity. ♥

Liz Rayen (author) from California on April 29, 2013:

Ahhhh Mary.. you are in palm tree heaven there! There are so many palms that thrive in your zone and other tropical zones, such as the south pacific. I agree with you.. I think palms are beautiful and majestic. Thank you for your comments and shares. ♥

Liz Rayen (author) from California on April 29, 2013:

Thank you prasetio30. Palms do grow in a very unique way, don't they? I particularly love the palms with the feathered frond that drape over each other. Nice to see you again! ♥

Liz Rayen (author) from California on April 29, 2013:

Awwweee... hello my little blackbird (shingirisheyes) I know! I was completely surprised as well. Happy you enjoyed the article! So good to see you! ♥

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on April 29, 2013:

Great hub about the different palm trees. We see all different types of palm trees growing in Houston. Up, useful, interesting and pinning this to my trees board.

Natasha from Hawaii on April 29, 2013:

This is actually weirdly useful to me! I live in SC and visitors where I work are always asking about the various palms and I usually just have to shrug at them.

Mary Hyatt from Florida on April 29, 2013:

I live in S. Fl. and we have many different kinds of palms. I learned a lot from reading your Hub; very informative.

The Palm Tree is very beautiful, I think.

Voted UP, etc. and shared.

prasetio30 from malang-indonesia on April 29, 2013:

I really enjoy reading this hub. Palm trees are so beautiful when the leaves are neatly lined with towering. I learn many things about this plant. Thanks for writing and sharing with us. Voted up :-)

Prasetio

Shining Irish Eyes from Upstate, New York on April 29, 2013:

Go figure! Who would have thought some species of palms can grow in cold temperatures.

Great article

Liz Rayen (author) from California on April 29, 2013:

Thank you vocalcoach! It was a lot of fun researching this topic. I love palm trees as well and I was certainly amazed on how many species there are. What is even more surprising to me is that there are many species that are tolerant to cold weather. I think most of us always think about warm tropical climate when you think of palm trees. Where that may be true for most of them.. there are some species that I wouldn't mind looking up to see if they would survive the mountains. Thanks for your support, votes, shares, and love! (PS.. I'll teach ya how to make dividers) ♥

Audrey Hunt from Idyllwild Ca. on April 28, 2013:

I've learned so much from reading your excellent hub on Palm Trees. And I am amazed to find that there are over 2,600 species. I found my favorite palm tree to be the Areca Palm. I'm attracted to the way the fronds are shaped.

I also want to mention how cute the palm tree dividers are. You're so clever and artistic. Yes, this is a very interesting work and the writing just flows.

Thank you for all the lovely photos which really help to identify each specie of palm tree. I will pay more attention to these trees when I see them. I certainly have a greater appreciation for palms now that I've read your hub.

Voting up, useful, awesome, beautiful, interesting and will pin and share!

Liz Rayen (author) from California on April 28, 2013:

Mahalo nui Joe! When I did my research, I was surprised at all the different species as well. You know us, eh? The Royal, the coconut, and the Bottle palm were the ones I had in our backyard. Who would guess on the number of species out there! I appreciate your sweet comments my sweet island bradda. So good to see you again! ♥

Hawaiian Odysseus from Southeast Washington state on April 28, 2013:

I didn't realize that there were so many different kinds of palm trees. Your hub is so easy to read because of your efficient and easy-on-the-eyes presentation. Expertly done, Lisa! Way to go, island girl! Aloha, my friend!

Joe

Liz Rayen (author) from California on April 28, 2013:

Thank you Nithya (Vellur)! I'm so happy you enjoyed it. Thank you for the vote up and shares. ♥

Nithya Venkat from Dubai on April 28, 2013:

Great hub and I have learned a lot about Palm trees today. Voted up and shared.

Liz Rayen (author) from California on April 28, 2013:

I can just imagine moonlake! I'm so glad you enjoyed the hub. Thank you! ♥

moonlake from America on April 28, 2013:

Great hub. I use to love our palm trees in California. We can't grow them here that's for sure. Enjoyed your hub voted up.