The image of a sunny beach setting floods your mind at the thought of palm trees, right? Palm trees are far more important than just that. With the ability to grow in diverse environments, these plants are capable of withstanding hurricanes.
Not all palm trees are actually trees nor really a palm. They can grow in the form of a shrub or wood vines. Palm trees possess two different leaf types- palmate and pinnate. These plants also serve important religious symbols. It forms the basis of Palm Sunday (a week before Easter) when Jesus was welcomed with palms a week before his death. It also symbolizes peace and abundance in Judaism.
With over 2500 species, the majority are found in the tropical, subtropical and warm regions. Palm trees are a source of staples and other products. Coconut, betel nuts, dates, palm wine (native to Asia and Africa) and palm oil are gotten from palm trees.
Identifying Palm Trees
The identification of palm trees is usually done by the unique shape of the leaves (palm fronds). Generally, there are two different leaf shapes, which are palmate (fan-like) and pinnate (feather-like). The shape of the trunk is also used in identifying palm trees. Tall varieties of palm trees have long slender single trunks while dwarf or small varieties have short fat trunks.
Some small species may have 3 to 4 trunks clustered and growing together. And there are also some dwarf varieties that don’t have any trunk at all. They grow out of the ground as bushy pinnate fronds.
Also, some tall varieties may have smooth slender trunks and some have a bumpy or ringed appearance. The trunk in some palms are covered in fiber which allows for the hairy look they possess.
Small/Dwarf Palm Trees
Small varieties of palms are usually about 3.6m or less in height. The common types of palm tree that falls in the small/dwarf category include;
● Pygmy Date Palm
The Pygmy Date Palm, Phoenix roebelenii, is a palm tree with a spiky trunk. It does not grow taller than 3m and it has a single stem. The stem possesses long bushy pinnate fronds which are about 1m long. The dates produced by the pygmy palm are not as tasty as those produced on the taller date palm.
● Bottle Palm Tree
Hyophorbe lagenicaulis, commonly called Bottle Palm Tree, got its name from its trunk shape. The tree has a thick and short trunk which looks swollen at the base. The trunk grows to about 3m in height with 3 to 4 leaves. The palm fronds can grow to about 3.6m long at maturity and the leaflets about 0.6m long.
● Pindo Palm
Butia capitata, commonly known as the Pindo palm tree, is a slow-growing palm species. It is a specie of cold-hardy palms and can grow as high as 4.5m to 6m. Pindo palms are tolerant of most soil types. The fruit produced by the pindo palm has a light orange to brown colour and is often used in making jelly.
● Dwarf Majesty Palm
Dwarf Majesty Palm, Ravenea hildebrandtii, is one of the most popular short palm trees for landscaping and gardens. It has a single trunk which is about 7cm (3 inches) thick and the leaves are dark green feather-like (pinnate). The plant has a maximum height of 2.4m (8ft). The leaves are about 100cm (3ft) long and could have as many as 100 leaflets along the stem.
● Triangle Palm
Triangle palm, Neodypsis decaryi, is characterised by long pinnate fronds that can reach about 2.5m (8 ft) in length. The leaflets of the palm point out at an angle of 120° which gives the fronds a triangular shape.
The palm got its name from the leaves which fan out from a single fibrous stem to form a unique triangle shape. It is an ornamental type of palm tree suitable for subtropical and tropical gardens.
● Mediterranean Dwarf Palm
The Mediterranean Dwarf Palm, Chamaerops humilis, has few clustered trunks. This makes the palm look more like a shrub. The Mediterranean Dwarf Palm grows between 2m to 5m (10 to 20ft). The wideness of the palm’s leaflets ranges from 50cm to 80cm (20 to 30 inches) with a length of about 1.5m (5ft).
The palm fronds grow in a fan-like shape (palate) and are light-green to silver-green in color. Mediterranean Dwarf Palm is valued for its ornamental value and it gives a tropical look when planted in temperate regions.
● Spindle Palm
Commonly referred to as Spindle Palm, Hyophorbe verschaffeltii is often mistaken for the bottle palm. The palm got its name from the trunk which has a spindle shape- narrow at both ends and thick at the middle.
Spindle Palm has a slow growth rate and can grow as tall as 4 to 8 feet. The leaves are green and feather-like and they grow in a V-shape manner.
Other types of Palm Trees
● Date Palms
Date Palms, Phoenix dactylifera, is valued as one of the ancient palm trees and for its rich source of food. As judged by the name, date palm produces dates- a delicious type of fruit.
It can grow as high as 100 feet and the leaves are feather-like shaped. About 10 to 20 leaves are grown every year in a date palm and the length of the leaves can range between 12 to 18 feet. The leaves turn pale brown after several years and fall off.
● Zombie Palm Trees
Zombia antillarum, commonly referred to as Zombie Palm Tree, is native to Hispaniola. The palm can grow to a height of 3 metres. The palm got its name from its pointed spines, like voodoo dolls, that grow on the trunk. Although a slow-growing palm, it can reach a height of 10 feet.
● Windmill Palm Tree
Windmill Palm tree, Trachycarpus fortunei, is one of the hardy species of the palm tree. It has a slender trunk and can grow as high as 44 feet tall. The leaves have a fan-like shape though the tip has a weeping look. Windmill Palm tree is native to Japan and China and has several names as Chinese Windmill Palm and Chusan palm.
● Coconut Tree
Cocos nucifera, commonly known as the Coconut tree is often found in the tropical beaches. The palm can grow to reach a height of 20 metres. The leaves are feather-like (pinnate) and can reach a length of 3 metres. The fruit of this palm tree, coconut, can weigh up to 2kg and it is the largest seed that exists.
● Cuban Royal Palm
Cuban royal palm, Roystonea regia, is native to Bahamas, Vuna, Puerto Rico and some Mexico regions. The palm usually does not exceed 25m in height but it can grow as tall as 40 metres. The leaves are feather-like shaped and have numerous leaflets. The trunk has a diameter of about 60cm and has a smooth appearance.
● Florida Thatch Palm
Florida Thatch palm, Thrinax radiata, is commonly found along the coastal highways of South Florida. It can grow to a height of 15 to 20 feet. It is a slow-growing tree with big fan-shaped leaves.
The palm tree produces small fruits which is a great food for birds. The tallest palm tree is the Quindio wax palm which is Colombia’s national tree. It can grow to about 200 feet tall. However, with over 2500 species, many palm trees are going into extinction. Palm trees are beautiful and you might consider growing a dwarf variety to beautify your landscape.