Varieties of Florida Palms

The landscape of the Sunshine State is a perfect backdrop for tropical trees and shrubs and with a large variety of Florida Palms to choose from, you are sure to find the perfect match for your outdoor space.  

The University of Leeds has found that although palms are the most abundant tree in the Amazon rainforest, in some tropical areas they are rare or even absent. Thankfully, the Florida provides the warmth and light needed for a palm tree to thrive and if you are looking to decorate your landscape with some luxurious trees, palms are a great option. 

With such a wide variety to choose from, your only challenge may be which one to go for. Starting with appearance, for instance, dwarf palmettos, rarely grow taller than 3 feet, while the most giant palm trees can easily reach 100 feet. You also need to consider factors such as light and water, and which habitable zone you live in (Florida has four designated hardiness zones between 8-11).

Reading through a huge dossier of Florida palms can be confusing so I’ve compiled a comprehensive list including vital information such as the plant’s sun exposure needs and potential size. This will provide you with all the clarity you need to make your decision. 

Types of Florida Palms

The diverse climate of Florida means it is important to be able to identify the type of palm tree suitable for your zone when considering buying one.

All palms are sun-lovers but not all of them can tolerate the cold, preferring warmth and humidity year-round. In fact, most Florida palms are not cold-hardy but there are some. The ability to distinguish one from the other is vital if you are going to have a strong, healthy tree able to survive the winter. 

The weather can fluctuate from thunderstorms to intense heat and it is this vast environmental changeability which requires understanding and compatibility. This is easily done once you are armed with a little information. 

1. Paurotis palm (Acoelorrhaphe wrightii)

Paurotis palm
  • Thrives in full sun to partial shade
  • Easily grown in most soils
  • Non-toxic to humans and animals

Native to Florida, the Caribbean and Central America, the striking Paurotis palm does well in USDA zones 9b – 11. It prefers rich, moist locations and is tolerant of salt spray and open settings. 

The aesthetic characteristics of this palm more than makeup for its rather slow growth. It has many slender, upright trunks with multiple suckers at the base. This guarantees that there are trunks of varying heights on the palm unless the suckers are removed. The fronds are 2-3 feet wide and green above and silver below. This attractive palm can reach 25 feet with a temperamental spread and produces white flowers in spring followed by orange fruit. 

An important part of caring for your paurotis palm is pruning or trimming, this will not only help it to grow faster but keep its shape upright. 

The parrots palm is actually quite sensitive to soil pH and bodes well in a free-draining mix of around 6.3. Certainly, a pH any higher than 7 runs the risk of magnesium deficiency.  

All palms have high nutritional demands and should be fertilized every 3 months with deep weekly watering. 

Can be propagated by seed, it will take 2-3 months to germinate and will need to be kept warm.

2. African Oil Palm (Elaeis guineensis)

African Oil Palm
  • Best in stable-warm conditions with sufficient moisture all year
  • An efficient and easy-to-grow palm
  • Not toxic to humans or animals

Native to west and south-west Africa and in particular Angola and the Gambia, the African oil palm enjoys moist to wet tropical climates in USDA zones 10-12. 

This erect, single-stemmed tree is most often 20-30 meters high and has many tiny flowers along short branches. These will develop into oval fruits which, when ripe, will be black with a red base and contain a single oily seed known as the kernel.  

Your African Oil Palm will preferably receive at least 5-6 hours of bright sunshine per day. Left alone, they have been known to live for 200 years! 

The soil needs to be medium textured, humus rich and moist but not water-logged.  Ideally, it enjoys a pH of between 5.0 and 5.5.

New plants can be propagated from roots, stem shoots or seeds taken from fruits. The seed preparation is very important to avoid a long dormancy period. 

3. Pygmy Date Palm (Phoenix roebelenii)

 Pygmy Date Palm
  • Medium to bright, indirect sunlight
  • Relatively simple to grow with some management
  • Non-toxic to humans and animals

The delightful pygmy dwarf palm thrives in USDA zones 10 through 11 and is native to southeastern Asia from southwestern China and northern Vietnam. 

This tropical and subtropical spreading palm can grow to 6.5 feet high and 5 feet wide. It has an attractive trunk and very fine, feathery bright green leaves. 

Amateur horticulturalists dwelling in more sultry climates may find that the Pygmy Palm is a perfect ornamentation to pretty up their gardens. The plant is naturally resistant to insects and other invaders as well as tolerant to both soil variation and moderate droughts. 

Very little pruning will be required for the development of the palm’s naturally strong structure. 

Heavily alkaline-based soils with an ideal pH value of 8-11 will provide the best start for your Pygmy Palm. 

It is not considered toxic to humans or animals. 

4. Cat Palm (Chamaedorea Cataractarum)

Cat Palm
  • Prefers partial shade
  • Requires a moderate amount of attention 
  • Non-toxic

Cat Palms are not cold hardy and will only thrive outdoors in USDA zones 9-11. Native to southern Mexico and most areas of Central America, the Cat Palm can often be found along streams and waterfalls. 

Dry soil is a natural enemy of the Cat Palm so regular and consistent watering is a must to maintain its health. Also, every 1-2 months, a fertilizer must be applied to the soil. 

Despite these regular maintenance requirements, Cat Palms are exceedingly easy to propagate, given that they reproduce both sexually via seed and asexually via plants sprouting from the base of older plants. 

Male and female flower stalks occur in the same group in this androgynous palm. One way to distinguish between the sexes is that male stalks wither when pollen is released whereas female flowers reflect a bright orange coloring during pollination. 

Maximum height varies between 6 and 8 feet providing a modicum of shade through its elegant fronds of glossy dark green leaves. It can, though only occasionally, be used as a hedge plant if diligent pruning is applied. 

5. Bangalow Palm (Archontophoenix cunninghamiana)

Bangalow Palm
  • Full sun or partial shade
  • Low maintenance
  • Non-toxic to humans or animals

To find this beautiful palm in its natural habitat, head down under where you’ll find it nestled in the lush rainforests of Australia. Though regarded as a low-maintenance plant, because of its remarkable ability to shed and remove its dead leaves by itself, it does however require an enormous amount of water. So, you’ll be reaching for the garden hose much more than the pruning shears. 

Some common issues to be aware of include the potential for root rot as well as its natural insect enemy, the spider mite. But again, with regular weeding and watering such misfortunes can easily be avoided. 

If you’ve got the space to invest in a Bangalow Palm, it can be an ideal towering addition as it can grow up to an astounding 25 meters in height. Another added benefit is that its trunk is a mere 1 foot wide, allowing the more industrial gardeners the space to plant other flora and fauna next to it. 

The ideal soil will be a sandy or clay loam with a pH value of 5.5 – 6.5. 

Once established, they can benefit from fertilization every few years. Best propagated by seed rather than from cuttings or division. 

The Bangalow Palm is not considered toxic to humans or animals. 

6. Cabbage Palm (Sabal Palmetto)

Cabbage Palm
  • Full sun for optimal growth
  • Easy to grow once established 
  • Low-severity toxic characteristics

Native to the Southern United States, the Yucatan Peninsula and the West Indies, the Cabbage Palm thrives in USDA zones 8-11. 

In addition to being the official state tree of Florida, residents of South Carolina will recognize the image of a Sabal Palmetto on its state flag. 

This sturdy and high-growing palm serves a variety of functions. Besides its evident ornamental beauty, its fan-shaped leaves, reaching up to 6 feet in length, offer an excellent canopy providing shade throughout the sweltering humid months of the American deep south. It can even serve a culinary purpose given that its heart or new leaf bud can be cut out and used in salads. 

Its propagation occurs by seeds with germination taking place within 2-3 months. It is considered low maintenance being tolerant to drought, wind and salt. 

Those with the space and time to invest in a cabbage palm will be rewarded with an arboreal friend, not just for their life but for generations to come as it can live up to 150 years! 

This palm is relatively versatile when it comes to soil requirements. It can thrive in neutral (6.6 -7.3) to moderately alkaline (7.9 – 8.4) 

The Cabbage Palm is not toxic to humans or animals. 

7. Lady Palm (Rhaphis Excelsa)

Lady Palm
  • Partial shade
  • Easily maintained
  • Non-toxic to humans and animals

The Lady Palm or Rhaphis Excelsa, is a rather curious specimen in as much as it is not known to grow in the wild. Rather, all plants of this variety come from specially cultivated groups in China.

They were first collected by the Japanese for ostentatious, ornamental displays in Shogunate palaces, later spreading to Europe and then the Americas where less regally than their far-eastern ancestors they can now be seen as common features in shopping malls and offices. 

Hardy in USDA zones 9-11, the Lady Palm is cold hardy and considered extremely low-maintenance requiring absolutely no pruning and not subject to any disease or pest issues. 

Considered one of the smaller evergreen palms, its bamboo-like canes are adorned with dark green fan-shaped foliage. 

Propagated by seed, growth is easy though slow, achieving a medium height of 6-15 feet tall with a width of 180 – 450 cm. A monthly fertiliser combined with generous watering during the growing season will prove a winning formula. 

A moist soil, of a pH value 5.5 – 7.5, preferably a loamy compost, will contribute to your Lady Palm’s health and optimum well-being. 

Lady Palms are not toxic to animals or humans.

8. Coconut Palm (Cocos nucifera)

Coconut Palm
  • Full sun struggles in shade
  • Easy to grow but requires some care long term
  • Not toxic to humans or animals

Coconut palms have a small hardiness area covering USDA zones 10 – 12 and only the warmest areas of zone 9.  Native to southeast Asia, they require adequate heat and will not tolerate climates which freeze during winter. 

Considered pantropical, they thrive in tropical environments with high humidity. A common sight along island beaches, the coconut palm will tolerate growing on the mainland as long as the temperature requirements are met. 

The ideal temperature is 72F (22C) and there is a rainfall of 30 – 50 inches every year. An unexpected freeze can be lethal to this heat-loving tree. 

A coconut palm tree is distinguished by its rather slim, cylindrical trunk which is smooth and ringed with old leaf scars. Its crown of leaves is green and clustered on a stem and it will bear rounded green or yellow fruit. The female flowers are larger than the male and interestingly, the female flowers resemble tiny coconuts while the male leaves have been compared to lilies. It can flower up to 13 times a year.

This palm has a moderate growth rate and requires lots of heat and light. Given the correct conditions, it can reach around 30 meters tall. 

The optimum soil pH is 6.4 – 7.0 and needs to be well-drained. You should also feed your coconut palm a nutrient-rich fertilizer which includes phosphorus, nitrogen, manganese and boron. 

Coconut palms are not toxic to humans or animals. 

9. Foxtail palm (Wodyetia bifurcate)

Foxtail palm
  • Full sun or partial shade
  • Easy to grow
  • Can be toxic, caution advised

Native to Queensland Australia, it is the sole species of the genus Wodyetia. This attractive palm is hardy and well-adapted to USDA zones 10-11. 

This attractive palm has long plumose leaves which are deep green to light green and resemble a bushy fox’s tail, hence the name. It has a grey trunk which can reach up to 10 meters and produces lovely white flowers from the base of the crown shaft. The fruit will ripen turning from olive green to orange red. 

The foxtail palm requires regular watering and this will be even more necessary during the growing season. Care requirements include mulching to retain moisture, and also keep the weed growth to a minimum. 

If you are in an area which has a low pH soil, this can be corrected with the application of limestone. 

The seeds of this palm can be toxic and caution is advised as ingesting or even getting one embedded in the skin can be very dangerous.

10. Needle Palm (Rhapidophyllum hystrix)

Needle Palm Rhapidophyllum
CC-BY-4.0
  • Shade or sun
  • Very easy to grow
  • Parts of the tree can be toxic

Native to the coastal margins of the sub-tropical eastern Gulf and south Atlantic states of the USA, the hardy Needle palm thrives in USDA zones 5 through 11. 

Particularly interesting is that it does not form a trunk and instead, has stems growing very tightly, bound together originating from one single base. Its fan-shaped leaves are covered with needle-sharp spines which grow between 3-4 inches in length. In spring or early summer, the Needle palm will reward your care with small yellow flowers closely followed by fleshy fruit. 

This extremely tolerant tree can reach 5 – 10 feet high and 1 – 5 feet wide. It is very drought-resistant, especially once established. If you are looking for the exotic appearance of a palm with the self-sufficiency of a robust stalwart, this may be the specimen for you! 

Slightly acid to slightly alkaline sandy loam soils are best and even chalk and clay can provide a steady and enriching foundation. 

The hardened thorns can be dangerous and caution is recommended. One part of the Needle palm may be entirely safe whilst another is toxic. 

FAQs

Why are my palm trees turning brown?

There are a few reasons why your palm tree is turning brown but don’t panic, most problems can be rectified with some TLC. The first symptoms can be a palm with brown tips and this is all too often related to under watering. However, it could also relate to a lack of fertilizer, low humidity or lighting, or even a pest infestation.

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Ben's horticultural interest grew when graduating from Hertfordshire University in 1997. Having contributed to numerous publications including Better Homes & Gardens, Garden Design Magazine, and The English Garden. He is also the author of Propagating Houseplants Made Easy.