How to Identify Species of Palm Trees
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 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
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.
Are There Palm Trees in Your Life?
Do you prefer to grow palm trees inside or outdoors?
Characteristics of the Areca Palm
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.”
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).
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.
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.
Characteristics of the Bismarck Palm
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.
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)
This palm is very low maintenance and requires minimum care and water. The Bismarck Palm is virtually disease free.
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.
Characteristics of the Chinese Fan Palm
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.
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).
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
- 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
- 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.
- 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.