Palm Tree Species

Thinking through over 2,500 palm tree species can seem overwhelming! Palms are popular choices for outdoor landscaping. Or for potting to bring a tropical touch to your indoor environment. But many of us wonder: which is the right one to choose for our needs?

Or maybe you're just curious about palms that are unique, or have a special decorative look. There are palms like that. Perhaps you'd like to know about particular types of palms, some that have interesting ways of growing.

Let's look at the varied species of palms & how it all works.

We'll break it down, as we're palm enthusiasts ourselves. Always learning more, visiting palm groves, botanical gardens, reading palm tree books, reading the latest of various Organization's Palm Tree newsletters.

Seeing what's new. To get it out there for you. Keep scrolling along, or choose your topic:

Here at Mission: Palm Trees

Palm lovers can get the info needed to ease their searching tasks. While enjoying our articles & having fun, without unneeded shoptalk lingo & tiring research.

Introduction to Palm Tree Species

Thinking of palm trees brings a certain esthetic vision, to most people's minds. Known for tall, slender trunks & their striking leaves.

Yet, they're more diverse than that. Found in many different parts of the world, with varied climates. Even though they're associated with the tropics. 

Want to learn more about these fascinating plants? Our guide gives you basics to see their variety! Let's get started.

dusk arriving to a tropical island

Sorting Out the Science of Palms

SOME SAY THEY'RE A TYPE OF GRASS?

Huh?! Can that be true?

Palm trees are classified in the plant family Arecaceae. They're defined by branchless stems (trunks), with large, distinct looking leaves. Their trunk is woody looking, yet it doesn't have bark.

They're not really a typical tree classification, as compared with oaks, maples, etc. They actually do have more similarities to grasses, rice & corn.

But does that mean they ARE a grass species?

Comparing Palms to Grass

Palm trees are evergreen monocots.

Palms Typically Grow from seeds, develop flowers which give way to Palm Fruit.

These are some methods for identification:

Palm tree species come in all shapes & sizes. Some are pretty small, even only getting to about 6ft/1.8m tall. Others grow to 100ft/30m plus! 

Other ID practices are figuring the types & numbers of fronds, methods for growing, & specific characteristics.

For instance, asking: does this Palm Have a Crownshaft?

Palm Culture Throughout the World's History

Species of palm trees have a Rich Cultural Meaning, now & in history, throughout the world. Particularly in the tropics. Many cultures use their fruit as table food or for animal feed. Middle Eastern countries, in particular have deep cultural implications regarding palm tree species. 

Since they're associated with tropical climates, they awaken Palmy Beach Sunsets in travel plans, art or memories!

Sunset in Georgia at Cumberland Island National SeashoreLiking this Georgia Sunset Memory!

Review Varied Palm Tree Species Categories

Some palm tree species are well-known, such as The Coconut Palm. Most are known by their common names. Others are overlooked, but quite fascinating. Sadly, some palm species are endangered, others have become extinct.

We'll guide you to some of the unique, the humble, the popularly common & the weird! Likely some palm tree species you may not have heard of before.

Palm tree species can be categorized several ways.

GROWING METHODS OF PALM SPECIES

Think of the way palms grow to organize which species they are. Two most common methods are Solitary and Clustering.

What are Solitary Palm Trees?

Probably what initially comes to mind for palms. They have one single trunk. The leaves/fronds grow out from trunk's top, with no branches.

  • They're more vulnerable to high wind damage, like with hurricanes.
  • They succeed in multiple types of climates.
beach with palm trees and chairs for relaxing

What is Meant By Clustering Palms?

They grow in clumps. Meaning these palm tree species grow multiple trunks alongside the single original base. They spread outward with these newer trunks.

  • They're popular, having a lush appearance.
  • Depending on the palm tree species, useful as hedging or a Landscape Focal Point.
Licuala spinosa palm tree species watercolor from 1878The Licuala spinosa palm tree species.
Nicknamed Mangrove Fan Palm, a Clustering Palm.

Organizing Palms by Types of Leaves

Palm species have two common types of fronds. Knowing these is basic to Palm Tree Identification:

Example of pinnate frond and palmate frond

Difference Between Pinnate and Palmate Fronds

  • Pinnate Fronds - Commonly called Feather Palms. Because their leaves remind you of large green feathers. 
  1. Many leaflets grow along a stem. For a delicate, graceful look.
  • Palmate Fronds - Commonly called Fan Palms. Their fronds are typically fan-shaped & quite large.
  1. Their look also appears like the palm of your hand, with fingers spread out. Which is how they're named.

See These Pinnate Palm Tree Species

The Areca Palm Genus

Approximately sixty species of palms in the Areca genus. They all Have Crownshafts. And the feathery pinnate fronds.

Areca guppyana Palm Tree Species

Native to New Guinea & Solomon Island rainforests. Not commonly found in a landscape. But locally used to substitute for the Betal Nut Palm. 

  • As seen here, its narrow trunk is supported by stilt roots.

The stunning, yet small Areca ridleyana

A beautiful ornamental stunner. Endemic to Malaysian rainforest hills, growing beneath taller plants. Thus needs shady areas.

Young Areca ridleyana palm in forest undergrowth

Dypsis lutescens Has a Confusing Common Name

Although commonly called the Areca Palm, it's actually not in the Areca genus as you can see with the genus name: Dypsis. It's also known as Golden Cane Palm Tree & Butterfly Palm.

Calamus muelleri - A different Type of Palm Tree Species

Native to Eastern Queensland & New South Wales Rainforests. Locally called Southern Lawyer Cane. Also called Wait-A-While.

  • A clustering palm growing with a climbing method. Most in the Calamus genera do that. They climb up forest vegetation, like a vine.
  • Their spines help them attaching to plants.
  • Probably the most cold-hardy of all Calami rattans.

Chamaedorea elegans - Very Popular as an Indoor Palm

Common names are Neanthe Bella or Parlor Palm Tree. Probably the most popular palm tree species for indoors. It tolerates shady spots well.

  • The small yellow flowers add to its attraction.
  • Some use it outdoors as a tall groundcover!
Vintage watercolor artwork of the Chamaedora elegans PalmVintage Artwork from 1878

Chamaedorea radicalis

Sometimes called the Mexican Parlor Palm or Hardy Parlour Palm. 

  • Endemic to oak forest foothill climes of northeastern Mexico. Known for survival in Zones 8-11.
  • Looks trunkless because it's underground. Why it's used as ground cover.
Trunk of the Hardy Parlour Palm is below ground.Where's the Trunk of the Hardy Parlour Palm?

Cocos nucifera v. Malayan Dwarf

Commonly called Dwarf Coconut Palm, Malayan Dwarf Coconut Palm or Pygmy Coconut has edible coconuts. Zones 10b-11.

  • This Malayan strain of the Coconut Palm Tree was developed for resistance to lethal yellowing disease.

Beautifully colorful Cyrtostachys renda

Known as Lipstick Palm, Sealing Wax Palm, Maharajah Palm & Pinang Rajah. 

  • A colorful contrast makes this a brilliant palm tree species specimen. The frond stem, bases & crownshaft are a dazzling glossy red. Dark green feathery leaflets provide contrast.
  • Needs much water & tropical warmth. Easiest growing: potted as an Indoor Palm.

Dypsis decaryi - A Unique, Stunning Palm Species

Known as the Triangle Palm. You'll discover why, because of the eye-catching triangular shape of its bright green fronds.

  • The trunk has a distinctive rough texture.
The Uniquely Shaped Triangle PalmWe Think You Now Know How it Got That Common Name!

Elaeis guineensis - The African Oil Palm

Even though 25 feet tall, it's massive because of the full round crown.

  • With 15ft/4.5m long fronds having 3-5ft/90-150cm leaflets.
Vintage Ink Rendering of African Oil Palm TreeVintage Palm Tree Artwork
Elaeis guineensis, the African Oil Palm growing in Homestead FloridaAfrican Oil Palm "immigrant" in Florida!

Fishtail Palm Trees Have a Unique Frond Look

A genera with 12 palm tree species. With another type of leaf form: bipinnate leaflets resembling fish tails.

Caryota mitis: It's the ONE called the Fishtail Palm.

  • Crams thickly out to 15ft/4.5m wide in clusters. Slender stems grow to 30ft/9m tall.
  • With regular watering, grows relatively quickly.

Hyophorbe lagenicaulis - the Stunning Looker

Called the Bottle Palm or Belly Palm. Small, unique palm species native to Indian Ocean's Mascarenes.

  • Lower trunk has a distinctive shape. Reminding you of a bottle or a beer belly! 
  • Only gets about 30ft/9m max. Tiny white flowers bring small, red fruits.
  • Becoming a popular ornamental, this handsome species is natively endangered. Because of over-harvesting, plus natural habitat loss.

Hyophorbe verschaffeltii - The Spindle Palm

Sometimes called the Spindle Bottle Palm. Native to the island of Mauritius.

The smooth, gray trunk is reminiscent of a spindle: narrow at the bottom & top, swelling a bit in between. Above is a vividly green crownshaft. Relatively hardy, yet slow-growing.

  • Grows to 40ft/12m tall. Small red fruit follows tiny white flowers.
  • A very popular landscape plant. Now endangered in the wild.
  • One saving grace you can Easily Grow It From Seed.
Palm tree grove full of Spindle Palms

Ravenea rivularis - the Majestic Palm

 Mostly called Majesty Palm Tree is practical for indoors.

  • But it's a fast grower & will get pretty tall!

ROYAL PALM TREE

About 12 palm tree species in this category. All native to the Caribbean.

Roystonea regia - The Royal Palm icon

AKA Cuban Royal Palm. A solitary grower, pretty quickly to 100ft/30m tall.

  • Light gray trunk topped off with a dark green tapering crownshaft. 
  • Very impressive flower inflorescences (stalks) grow upwards.

Syagrus romanzoffiana - The Queen!

Queen Palm Trees natively are solitary, quickly getting up to 90ft/27m tall. 

  • Typically like Zones 9-11 best, with good sun & lots of watering. 
  • Even grows easily from seed.

See These Gorgeous Palmate Palm Tree Species

Bismarckia nobilis is So Handsome!

The popular, Bismarck Palm Tree is loved for huge, silver-blue fan fronds. Relatively drought-hardy.

  • The impressive trunk gets up to 18in/45cm thick. Patterned with grayish-brown diamond-shaped leaf scars. 
  • In 9b-11 Zones, Landscaping Planning often makes use of this palm tree species.

Brahea decumbens is a Sun Lover

Called the Mexican Dwarf Blue Palm or Sierra Madre Palm. Native to scrubby areas of Northeastern Mexico.

  • Clustering growth in a "recumbent" manner, slowly sliding along the ground. 
  • It can make a nice groundcover, though a bit tall.

Chamaerops humilis - The European Fan Palm

Also goes by Mediterranean Fan Palm.

  • Usually clustering, spreading to 30ft/9m. Maxes about 20ft/6m high. 
  • Survives Zones 8-11. Not fussy, except doesn't like wet/humidity.
Chamaerops humilis or the Mediterranean Fan Palm by itself in a grassy areaThis Palm is Fairly Cold Hardy
Doesn't Want Much Rain Either!

Livistona chinensis - The Chinese Fan Palm

Relatively short, slow growing & easily managed. 

  • Can range from tropics (9-11) to temperate areas (with watchfulness Zone 8b).

Rhapis excelsa - The Popular Indoor Palm: Lady Palm

Other common names: Bamboo Palm or Tall Lady Palm. 

  • Naturally clustering out as tall (12ft/4m) as it's wide.

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Washingtonia robusta

Multiple common names are Mexican Palm Tree, Washington Palm, Mexican Fan Palm & Skyduster.

  • Popular Tall Palm Species for outdoor street & city landscapes in the Southwest. 
  • Native to canyon washes & springs of Sonora & Baja California, Mexico.

Some make the comparison of Washingtonia filifera vs robusta (see their looks below). The filifera isn't Native to Southern California. Unlike robusta which is native to So-Cal, Western Arizona & Baja California.

Compare the Look of Washingtonia filifera vs robusta

One of the species of the Washingtonia genus of palms.Filifera Has a Much Thicker Trunk

Takeaways for palm tree species

You've seen there are several ways to categorize palm tree species.

Knowing that can help you decide on a suitable palm to grow yourself. Or not! It's also the beginning for figuring out palm identification.

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