There are over 2,500 different species of palms across the globe. These evergreen trees are defined by their branchless trunks and large, green leaves that grow in either a pinnate (feather-like), palmate (fan-like), or costapalmate (intermediate) structure.
Palm trees vary greatly in size, ranging from just under a meter to over 60 meters in height. There are a variety of reasons you might choose to grow a palm tree, be it their ornamental appearance against your landscape, the variety of fruits they provide, or their oil.
Types of Palm Trees
Not every species of palm is a tree. Some are small shrubs and others are rattan (climbing palms). Below, I have categorized the different varieties according to their physical characteristics.
Small Palm Trees
Generally, palms that are under 6 meters in height are categorized as small. These species make popular indoor plants and are suitable for container planting.
In terms of appearance, small palms may be miniature trees, or more closely resemble a bush.
Medium Palm Trees
Medium-sized palm trees are defined as those that are between 15 and 40 feet tall.
They are popularly used for landscaping because they provide essential shade and canopies that the small palms cannot, whilst taking up much less space in comparison to large palms.
Large Palm Trees
Palm trees over 40 feet in height are considered large. Some of the largest palms grow naturally in the Neotropical rainforests across the Americas.
These make a perfect statement tree and can be grouped with other plants, or used to line paths and driveways.
Fruiting Palm Trees
Many species of palm trees also produce edible fruits. Coconut is the most common, but dates, peaches, and acai are among some of the other fruits that grow on palms.
These are native to tropical and subtropical climates and grow best in year-round hot and humid conditions.
Palm shrubs lack the tall and branchless trunk that is iconic in palm trees. Instead, they have trunks that sit underground or clustering branches that sit very close to the ground, creating a bush-like appearance.
This variety of palm can vary in size and make it popular for container gardens or indoor species.
Often referred to as Rattans, climbing palms are a type of vine-like palm that is native to the tropical jungles across Asia.
Unlike over palms, the thick stems adopt a climbing behavior and are covered in tough spikes.
8 Varieties of Palm Trees
Out of the hundreds of thousands of palm species that exist, I have whittled them down to a list of my favorite eight, each chosen because they differ vastly, and all boast unique and interesting features.
1. Coconut Palm Tree
Scientific Name: Cocos nucifera
- Mature Height: 80 to 100 feet tall
- Ideal Position: Full sun
- USDA Hardiness Zones: 10, 11, and 12
- Native To: Western Pacific tropical islands
Coconut palms have slim and smooth trunks that are wider at the base and a crown of green leaves at the top. Mature trees produce coconuts all year round and a single tree can produce around 75 coconuts each year. The flesh and the liquid inside the coconut are edible.
Native to the tropical islands of the Western Pacific, the coconut palm thrives in full sun and requires at least 6 hours of direct sunlight every day. They prefer fairly moist soil that has an acidic to neutral pH.
2. Dwarf Chinese Fan Palm (Fountain Palm)
Scientific Name: Livistona chinensis
- Mature Height: 30 to 50 feet tall
- Ideal Position: Full to partial sun
- USDA Hardiness Zones: 9, 10, and 11
- Native To: East Asia
Popular landscape and indoor plants, the Chinese fan palm has a relatively slender trunk that is grey-brown in color. This tree is so-called due to its large, emerald-green palmate leaves that arch and drop from the top of the tree, creating a fountain-like appearance. The leaves can reach up to 6 feet in length.
The Chinese fan palm is slow-growing and if kept inside in a pot, will reach a maximum height of 10 feet. These trees grow best in full to partial sun with soil that is acidic to slightly neutral. Outside its native range, this tree is best kept indoors as they are not tolerant of cold climates and are considered invasive in many US states.
3. Bamboo Palm
Scientific Name: Dypsis lutescens
- Mature Height: 20 to 39 feet tall
- Ideal Position: Full sun to part shade
- USDA Hardiness Zones: 10 and 11
- Native To: Madagascar
The bamboo palm (also known as Butterfly Palm, Areca Palm, and Golden Cane Palm) differs from the classic palm tree morphology in the fact several thin stems protrude from the base, creating a funnel-like shape. The stems somewhat resemble bamboo, hence the name of the tree.
During the summer months, the trees bear yellow flowers which eventually become small, red berries that turn black when ripe. However, these berries are not suitable for human consumption.
The upward-arching leaves are 2 to 3 meters in length and have green leaflets with a green-yellow vein. The bamboo palm is an ornamental plant and has become a popular addition to many houses and gardens. It is endangered in its native habitat. Bamboo palms thrive in full sun to partial shade and favor acidic soil.
4. Chilean Wine Palm
Scientific Name: Jubaea chilensis
- Mature Height: 75 feet tall
- Ideal Position: Full sun
- USDA Hardiness Zones: 8 to 11
- Native To: Chile
Chilean wine palm is a hardy, drought-tolerant palm that can grow in a wide range of zones. It has a thick, grey trunk that is incredibly bulbous near the base. It boasts a crown of green, arching leaves which become blue-gray in color as they mature.
Chilean wine palm is a slow grower but can reach great heights of around 75 feet tall. It is also suitable to be grown inside, where it stays much smaller. It can take up to half a century for this tree to first bloom its yellow and purple flowers.
Chilean wine palm can is tolerant of a wide range of soil types and pH. It will thrive so long as it receives full sun and has well-draining soil.
5. Canary Island Date Palm (Pineapple Palm)
Scientific Name: Phoenix canariensis
- Mature Height: 40 to 60 feet tall
- Ideal Position: Full sun
- USDA Hardiness Zones: 9 to 11
- Native To: Canary Islands
Canary Island date palm is a large species, often used for ornamental landscaping. Its pinnate, green leaves can reach up to 20 feet in length and arch downwards, creating a beautiful crown effect.
The tree also bears fruit, which is yellow to orange in color and oval-shaped. The fruit pulp is edible but is rarely consumed as they are not very flavourful and there is little flesh as the fruit is mainly seed.
Canary Island date palms are cold hardy and can tolerate temperatures as low as 20oF. Naturally, these trees grow in close proximity to the sea. They can also be grown in containers and are fairly low maintenance.
6. Mexican Fan Palm
Scientific Name: Washingtonia robusta
- Mature Height: 70 to 100 feet tall
- Ideal Position: Full sun to partial shade
- USDA Hardiness Zones: 9 to 11
- Native To: Mexico
The Mexican fan palm is a large and fast-growing tree with a long lifespan. They have a slender red-brown trunk that is swelled considerably at the base. Dark green, fan-shaped leaves crown from the top of the tree.
Bunches of small, white flowers hang from 3-meter-long branches amongst the leaves and eventually develop into dark brown fruits that are edible. The leaves of this tree are often used to construct handmade items such as baskets.
Mexican fan palm is a hardy and very adaptable species. They can tolerate an acidic, neutral, and alkaline pH as well as soil that ranges from dry to saturated.
7. Oil Palm
Scientific Name: Elaeis guineensis
- Mature Height: 60 to 80 feet tall
- Ideal Position: Part shade
- USDA Hardiness Zones: 10, 11 and 12
- Native To: Africa
Oil palm gets its name due to the palm oil that it produces. Large red-orange fruits hang from the tree and are the source of palm oil. The fruits are around 56% oil and squeezed to obtain it. Around 50% of products found in a supermarket contain palm oil. This includes cosmetics, food, cleaning products, and even biofuel.
In their natural environment across Africa, oil palms can reach over 60 feet in height. Palms in cultivation are much smaller and rarely exceed 30 feet in height. Their grand trunk ends in a crown of arched, dark-green leaves. Oil palms are not cold hardy and require full sun and soil that is kept consistently moist.
8. Bismarck Palm
Scientific Name: Bismarckia nobilis
- Mature Height: 30 to 60 feet tall
- Ideal Position: Full sun to partial sun
- USDA Hardiness Zones: 9, 10 and 11
- Native To: Madagascar
Bismarck’s palm has a thick and relatively short trunk that grows fairly slowly. This species of palm boasts unique palmate leaves, that are rounded rather than elongated in shape. The foliage is also blue-green in color.
Although it favors warm climates and full sun, bismarck palm is surprisingly cold tolerant and can recover from exposure to below-freezing temperatures. However, harsh winds are likely to cause damage.
Due to its unique appearance, bismarck palms are often grown for landscaping and ornamental purposes. Under the correct conditions, these trees are relatively low maintenance.
Palm Tree Care
Growing your palm tree in its optimal conditions will ensure it stays happy and healthy, and looks its best. There are a few steps you can take when it comes to making sure you give your palm tree the best care possible.
Palm trees should have constantly moist soil that is not overly saturated. During the hotter, summer months, your tree may require more frequent watering. Press your finger into the soil to check how dry it feels.
The best location for most palm trees is in the full sun, preferably sheltered from strong winds. Some species thrive in direct, constant sunlight whilst others require partial shade.
Temperature and Humidity
Most palms are native to tropical and subtropical regions. As such, the optimum temperatures are generally between 60oF and 80oF. Temperatures that are too hot or too cold can damage palms, slowing their growth rate and causing yellow, droopy leaves.
Regarding humidity, palms prefer a 40% to 50% humidity. Many palms are sensitive to dry air as it can lead to brown and crispy leaves. It may be a good idea to frequently mist your palm with water to keep the moisture levels high and increase the humidity levels.
Palm trees are known for their ability to adapt to many soil conditions, making them low-maintenance trees.
Palms can often grow in acidic, neutral, or alkaline soil. Although they can survive in dry, desert conditions, they grow best in soil that is well-draining but kept moist.
When it comes to fertilizer, a slow-release one is best for palm trees. They provide essential nutrients over a longer period of time and reduce the risk of leaching.
Fertilizer should be applied around the base of the trunk during the growing season.
Due to the nature of how they grow, palm trees cannot be propagated by asexual means, such as cuttings, as many plants can. Generally, the best way to propagate palm trees is from seed.
Varieties of Palms FAQ
Can I keep palm trees indoors?
Many species of palm are suitable for growing in pots inside, such as the parlor palm.
What is the largest species of palm tree in the world?
The Quindío wax palm is the world’s tallest palm tree. It is native to the montane forests in the Andes and can reach around 200 feet in height.
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.