What is a Palm Tree?

What is a palm tree - Did you ask?

You can certainly get a technical dictionary-like, or botanical definition. And we'll help you with that, alright. But will that get your understanding of what a palm tree really is?

We're not sure it will. If you want to understand some of the basics about this gorgeous plant. Because you can say, it is a "tree" of a different sort!

Or if you want to get the Science Classification out of the way, right away. Or scroll a short way down to see it!

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.

Scientific Classification of Palms

First of course it's in the plant kingdom. The family that palms are in is called Arecaceae (preferred). Still sometimes called Palmae (the older name). It's a woody, perennial with many varieties.

Taxonomic Rank comparing palm trees to grassSome think palm trees are a kind of grass.
Way up the plant kingdom, they have a relationship, but that's all!
Over 2600 Species of Palms!


Sort-of think of it how it's organized, like your own family tree. The whole tree, with its branches, is the family. With the couple who began their tree of descendants.

  • For palms, that analogy would be the Arecaceae family.

Cousins & Their Parents

Next think about your aunts, uncles & cousins. That begins other smaller branchings. You're all related by DNA. You might have some similar characteristics.

I remember two cousins I knew who almost looked like they could be twin sisters! You may have known someone like that yourself.

  • For palms this is like various sub-families. There are six total, then divided into tribes & even sometimes subtribes. An example of a palm sub-family is Coryphoideae, which contains 3 tribes.

Mom & Dad

Then look to your family tree branches for your parents. This is your closest relationship.

  • For palms, that would be the assorted genera groupings. They have characteristics that put them in the same genus group. Closely related. An example of a genus is the Phoenix palms.


Then there are also your brothers & sisters. They're also very closely related.

  • With palms, we can compare that relationship to the species. Which itemizes each type of palm tree.

We hope that gives a general idea of how that all works. But there's more to knowing about what is a palm tree to understand this unique plant!

How Does a Palm Tree Grow

Palm trees grow primarily from seed. Yet they do have ways of spreading out by using suckers from their base to grow more trunks. That's called clumping or clustering. That's an alternate Palm Propagation Choice, used on occasion.


Palms are monocots. The seedling has only one seed leaf. It sprouts from the seed to rise above ground.

This separates them from most deciduous trees, shrubs & garden flowers. They're all dicots. Palm seeds range from easily starting to sprout, to quite difficult.


What they all do is begin the below ground action first. They all need warm temperatures for success. A minimum of 86oF up to even the high 90s to 100oF range.

  • Most of a palm seed has inner nourishment for starting palm tree growth. Called the endosperm.
  1. Think of the coconut's meat & milk. Which is that palm seed's endosperm.
The inner part of the coconut is called the endospermThe Coconut Palm's Seed has Endosperm
Nourishment for a New Palm's Initial Energy Source

First Growth

From the seed bottom out shoots a cotyledonary petiole. It's not a root, though it grows downward. Until below it does start a seedling root (radicle).

Next Growth

From the top of that petiole comes the seedling stem (plumule). To form the trunk's beginnings. And atop it, the first single leaf.

Root Change

Soon the seedling root stops working. Replaced by root growth from the stem's specialty area. Called the root initiation zone. This happens during the palm's Establishment Phase.

  • When roots begin growing, they come forth from the stem's base. From out of the root initiation zone. Called adventitious roots.
  • Growing out at the same thickness they'll always be. 
  • Palm roots can branch to four levels. They don't have root hairs.

What is a Palm Tree Baby?

For more understanding on what is a palm tree, think about this Establishment Phase. The Baby Palm Tree forms the meristem, or palm heart. That starts upward growth. While getting to this time, two things are happening:

  • Root initiation zone completes.
  1. Adventitious roots grow straight downward.
  • System that brings nourishment up through the trunk is formed.
Date Palm Tree's Adventitious Roots
Drawing Showing Location of Root Initiation Zone of a Palm


The palm's stem, or trunk, grows above ground. That can't begin until the Establishment Phase is ready. When the palm heart gets to an effective size.

While growing, a baby palm tree first works on expanding its base trunk to full width.  It won't grow further upward until that is all done. Creating the footing for upward growth to maturity.

So take heart, when your baby palm tree isn't getting taller! That's normal. It must finish its establishment phase. It must first grow its trunk to its greatest diameter. Then it will begin to grow taller.

Inside of a Palm Tree

Because it's a Monocot, the palm's guts are totally different from a typical elm or beech tree.

If you've ever seen the stump of a palm tree, you may have noticed there aren't growth rings. Like what you're used to seeing on oak or maple tree stumps.


Because it's a Monocot, the palm's guts are totally different from a typical elm or beech tree.

If you've ever seen the stump of a palm tree, you may have noticed there aren't growth rings. Like what you're used to seeing on oak or maple tree stumps.


A specialized system brings nourishment from the roots upward throughout the palm. It's through many palm bundles. These bundles are networks to move the palm's "food" throughout the plant. It has these parts:

  • Phloem tissue, which brings carbs from leaves to other parts of the palm.
  • Xylem tissue brings water with dissolved minerals.
  • Fibrous sheaths, quite inflexible, surround most bundle tissues.
Palm Tree nourishment Comparison to Oak TreePalm Bundles Scattered Through the Center & Thickly Around the Outer Edge
Very Different From the Typical Oak Tree, etc.


The bundles are scattered amidst soft inner tissue. These stiffly covered bundles are jammed into outer trunk areas. And dispersed toward the center. Compare this bundle network to steel rebar reinforcement.

That's why during tremendous wind conditions, palms can bend without breaking.

Palm Trunk Outer Systems


Palm trunks don't have a typical bark layer. They do have an outer hard layer that's protective. The look of the Trunk's Surface is quite variable, depending on the species.

Trunks begin growing from seedlings. To hold up palm fronds. And support the entire plant. Palm Trunks have surprising varieties of Palm Tree Colors existing throughout the world.

Pictorial Tutor of Trunk Styling

Howea belmoreana palm smooth ringed trunkSmooth Ringed Trunk of the Howea belmoreana

Phoenix roebelenii grows at Laeken Royal GreenhousesPhoenix roebelenii Palm's Leftover Sheath Bases
Roughly Remain on the Trunk

Palm Tree Leaves

The name for palm tree leaves is palm fronds. Their biological structure is basically like other leafed plants.


Yet they do have some unique aspects.

  • New fronds arise upward, in a narrow cylindrical shape. Called a spear. Helping reduce water loss or sunburn of a newly "born" leaf.
New Palm Frond grows from the top, called a spear
  • Some palms have water conserving methods via their fronds:
  1. Leaflets with folds or hanging at angles to reduce sun's drying effects.
  2. Shiny surfaces to help reflect sunshine.
  3. Wax-like, wooly or scaly coverings that serve as protective coatings.


The frond's stalk or stem is called the petiole. The attachment to the trunk is called the leaf base or Leaf Sheath. The frond has a lifespan. Different palm species manage this in various ways:

  • Some palms detach the leaf from the trunk. But the Leaf Sheath remains behind.
  • Other palms eject the frond along with the leaf sheath from the trunk. Leaving a scar, but the stem is smooth.
  • Various species keep their shag skirt of dead fronds.
  1. Like the Washingtonia species here.
Washington filifera palms in San Luis Obispo CaliforniaWashingtonia filifera - The California Fan Palm.
The only Palm Tree indigenous to that state!
Twins growing at the Leaning Pine Arboretum
In San Luis Obispo, California

Types of Fronds

Fronds are separated widely into two groups. Based on the blade's (the green leafy area) appearance:

  • Pinnate Fronds - These have a feathery look. So, called Feather Palms.
  • Palmate Fronds - These look like the palm of a hand. With fingers spreading out. They also resemble a fan. So, called Fan Palms.
Example of pinnate frond and palmate frond

Both of these fronds can be further subdivided.

Are you learning what exactly is a palm tree? Please Let Us Know> Getting to know the terms & Parts of a Palm. To help your understanding gradually become easier! 

Palm Tree Flowers

Palm trees have their own unique ways to produce flowers. Variable for when they begin to show. Some after about three years old. Others not until 30+ years under their belt!

Palm tree flowers are very small. But they grow out onto a long branching called an Inflorescence.


Where the inflorescence grows from the trunk is also helpful for palm identification.

It springs from different areas depending on species:

  • Just below the crown of palm fronds
  • From amidst the palm's crown
  • Or even at the top of the crown. 

A few grow at ground level. Even below, for subterranean growth.

Most palms will have three to five inflorescences grow out each year. Some only one yearly.


The inflorescence begins with a specialized protective leaf covering. Called a bract or spathe. It doesn't look like a leaf, but has a woody look to it.

It opens up to allow the branching to start.

palm tree bracts for new flower protection


Along the usually lengthy inflorescence are tons of small flowers. That's what makes palm tree flowers more vivid to the eye. Yet, they don't stay around long. Sometimes a day or less!

Most have yellow to creamy coloring. But some are pink to reddish, green or orange. They also can smell quite nice.

Though numbers of them are stinky!

Some palm flowers are stinky and have the worst smells

Palm Tree Reproduction


Pollination mostly happens with the help of insects. Sometimes it's with the wind's pollen transfer.

Bee Helping with Palm Flowers' PollinationBees Are Valuable Pollinating Insect for Palms


Palms have several flower genders:

  • Bisexual - Both male & female reproductive parts on a single flower.
  • Unisexual - Either male or female reproductive parts on one flower. The flower is male, or it is female.

Palm plants have Multiple Gender Arrangements

A palm species' inflorescence has both male & female unisexual flowers.

  • Palm can have male flowers on one inflorescence, while having female flowers on another inflorescence. These are monoecious.
  • Palm trees may have all inflorescences with only male flowers. Or with only female flowers on all their inflorescences. These are dioecious.
  • Palms can also have unisexual & bisexual flowers on the same plant. These are polygamous.

What Is A Palm Tree Flower For?

All in all, the purpose of the flowers, of course, is to form Palm Fruits. Which carry on this gorgeous species, by using their reproductive process. To make fruit, which then gives more seeds.

Palm Fruits

Palm Tree Varieties

There are so many palm tree varieties to consider. You really have to figure the reason for knowing what is a palm tree in your search. Perhaps you were looking into one of these:

  • Did you want to know the best kind of Palm Tree House Plant?
  • Are you not in the tropics? Maybe you'd want to research a type of Cold Hardy Palm Tree you could use for Your Own Landscaping Ideas.
  • Were you looking into species that were Fan Palm Tree varieties? Or Feather Palm varieties?

We have plenty of areas to peruse, that might be helpful - when you check

Our Mission: Palm Trees Site Index>

What is a Palm Tree Takeaways

Palms can be analyzed with Linnaeus's scientific name analysis. Learning about where they fit within their anatomy helps to learn more about palms. Including those you've never seen.

The parts of palm trees will be a logical progression.

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