11 Fascinating Facts About Palm Trees

chinese fan palm
Federica Fortunato/Getty Images.

For tropical landscaping, nothing conjures up the idea of an island escape like a palm tree. If you live in an arid, Mediterranean climate and can find palms at your local garden center, it's likely that you're in a region for growing palms.

Before deciding on a variety, find out more about the intriguing history of palm trees, along with facts that are good to know or will help you decide if you want to invest in a palm.

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    tall palms
    Lisa Hallett Taylor

    Some palms can reach heights of 70 feet or more. The Quindio wax palm (Ceroxylon quindiuense) is the tallest species, and can grow 160 to 200 feet (50 to 60 meters) high. It is the national tree and emblem of Colombia, and is now a protected species, which means it can't be used for logging.

    Other tall palms include:

    • Mexican fan palm (Washingtonia robusta), what you see in the Los Angeles and Southern California area. Can grow up to 98 feet tall.
    • Date palm  (Phoenix dactylifera). A fast grower, to 80 feet.
  • 02 of 11

    Ancient Symbolism

    ancient relief with palms
    De Agostini Picture Library/Getty Images

    The Assyrians believed that the ultimate symbol of eternal life was a tree growing beside a stream. The tree they valued the most was the palm.

  • 03 of 11

    Biblical and Religious Symbolism

    palm sunday jesus
    SuperStock / Getty Image

    On Palm Sunday, a week before Easter, Christians often carry palm fronds as a symbolic ritual that commemorates Jesus Christ's triumphal entry into Jerusalem, as foretold by the prophet Zechariah. According to the Bible, people cut branches from palm trees, laid them across Jesus' path and waved them in the air. 

  • 04 of 11

    Los Angeles's Love Affair with Palm Trees

    beverly hills palm trees
    David Liu/Getty Images

    Franciscan missionaries are credited with being the first to plant palm trees in California for ornamental purposes. By the turn of the 20th century, Southern California gardeners were hot for exotic palm trees and introduced them to the area.

    The 1932 World Olympics in Los Angeles is believed by some historians to be the reason for palms being planted along streets and pretty much every public park and gathering place. While it's a possibility, the beautification project also employed some 400 unemployed men during the Great Depression. Approximately 40,000 Mexican fan palm trees were planted along 150 miles of city streets. Since then, they've become an icon of the region, along with the Hollywood sign, beaches, etc.

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  • 05 of 11

    Long Lives

    buttefly palm
    De Agostini Picture Library/Getty Images

    Depending on the species, some palms can live for more than a century. That means the palm you plant might outlive you unless longevity runs in your family.

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    Washing Your Palms

    water palm trees
    Phil Fisk/Getty Images

    Everyone knows that you water a tree at its base. Palms are no different, but shooting that hose up to its leaves is beneficial, helping to knock off dust and to dislodge insects like scale, mites, and mealybugs that like to hide out in the long stems of some palms.

    Washing also provides much-needed humidity, since most palms are grown in dry regions.

  • 07 of 11

    Patio Plants

    potted palms
    Peter Carlsson/Getty Images

    Palms make great patio plants, and as they grow they can be moved or replanted from a container to a location that gets more sun. Just make sure you have the right type for a patio tree, along with a large enough container.

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    Shade Lovers?

    mediterranean fan palm
    Jerry Pavia/Getty Images

    Younger palm trees prefer shade and most varieties will tolerate it. Planting them under the canopy of other trees will protect tender fronds.

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  • 09 of 11


    sago palm
    DEA/C.SAPPA De Agostini Picture Library/Getty Images

    Dwarf varieties, like sago palm, can be grown as bonsai plants.

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    fallen palm fronds
    Flickr member Joel

    Trimming palm fronds is part of what keeps tree-trimming companies busy throughout the year, but it can be dangerous or even fatal work. Deaths have occurred when tree cutters have been suffocated by fronds that have slid down onto the worker and immobilized him or her. When this occurs, it's almost impossible for a worker to remove the fronds, because his or her body is pinned against the trunk with hundreds of pounds of pressure from the fronds. The fronds can force a worker's head and chin to his chin, resulting in suffocation.

    If the palms on your property need trimming, hire a company with experience in palm cutting. When feasible, they should use bucket trucks or mobile cranes. When the equipment is not available or the location does not permit their use, some arborists and tree cutters have devised a technique for trimming palms from above, so the trimmer won't be caught beneath a palm tree's skirt of fronds.

  • 11 of 11

    Fruit: Edible or Toxic?

    coconut tree and fruit
    Flickr member Jason Thien

    The fruits of many palms, like coconuts and dates, are delicious. Others, like sago, are poisonous to humans and animals. Know what type of palm tree the fruit is from before eating.