Palm Trees Bring the Tropics to Your Home
No plant evokes an image of the tropics more than a palm tree, with its slender trunk and feather-like fronds that sway gently in the breeze. But with nearly 3,000 species in existence, not all palms are alike. If you live in a region that is suitable for growing palm trees, it's helpful to know which ones are best for front and back yards. Things to consider: ultimate height, size of property, what it will be planted near, soil conditions, and leaf or fruit drop.
These evergreen trees feature either fan-shaped (palmate) or feather-shaped (pinnate) compound leaves, or fronds. Palmate leaves—also known as fan palm leaves—have leaflets that radiate from the leaf's base. More of the cold-hardy palms have palmate leaves. Pinnates, aka feather palm leaves, have two rows of leaflets on each side of a stem.
We've researched palm trees to come up with some of the best ones for residential landscapes. One thing they have in common: they aren't the giant palms that line boulevards or glamorize casino entrances.
For design purposes, we look at the best palmate palms.
Botanical name: Dypsis lutescens
Also known as: Golden cane palm, butterfly palm, bamboo palm, or yellow palm.
Frond Type: Palmate
How to ID it: Leaves or fronds are green with yellow, gold or even silver/gray in the leaflets and stems. From a distance, Arecas look gold, hence, some of their common names. Fronds are 4 to 6 feet long with a bare petiole. Dark spots or specks can be seen at the base of the leaf stems. Leaves form a "V shape" at the cross section.
Palm trees with crownshafts are considered self-cleaning, which means that aging leaves fall off, including the crownshaft. Brown tips are evident on this species after hot, dry, or cold weather. Simply trimming it, or giving it a haircut, will make the plant look neater. Ideally, this palm prefers a region with humidity.
Landscape uses: This drought tolerant palm tree grows quickly and is often grown as a shrub or hedge. widely planted throughout sub-tropical and tropical climates and make wonderful wind, sound and privacy screens. The number of stems vary and can be controlled by pruning.
Height: 25 to 30 feet
Native to: Madagascar and tropical India, Malaysia, Southern China, Philippines, the Solomon Islands and Australia.
Canary Island Date Palm
Botanical name: Phoenix canariensis
Also known as: Mistakenly, as a pineapple palm.
Frond Type: Palmate
How to ID it: A strikingly beautiful palm tree that makes a statement, it has a wide trunk lined with diamond patterns and a dense crown of arching fronds
Landscape uses: Canary Island palms are highly desirable among landscapers and tree nurseries because they are often used for luxury residential and commercial properties.
Height: A very slow grower, takes decades to reach 60 feet.
Native to: The Canary Islands. In New Zealand, it is considered invasive. This palm is considered naturalized in Spain, Italy, Australia, Bermuda and the Unites States, including Florida, Arizona, Southern Nevada, California, and Alabama.
Chinese Fan Palm
Botanical name: Livistona chinensis
Also known as: Chinese fountain palm.
Frond type: Palmate, or costapalmate
How to ID it: Features large, bright green fan-shaped leaves that are divided into segments that droop downward into a graceful, fountain-like shape. The leaves, or fronds, grow to about 5 feet in diameter and form a dense canopy on a single trunk. The trunk is wider at the base and can be brown to a grayish color.
Landscape uses: Chinese fan palms form long tap roots and is fairly drought tolerant—good to know for Californians and others in drought-stricken regions. Providing some irrigation will ensure more rapid growth. Smaller trees look attractive in containers on patios and decks or in small yards. It's also an effective privacy screen (or green screen) and an anchor or focal plant for a petite tropical bed. Plant in USDA Zones 9 to 11.
Height: It can grow to 50 feet in its native habitat but is usually seen at heights of 15 to 25 feet.
Native to: Southern Japan, Taiwan and several islands in the South China Sea.
Mediterranean Fan Palm
Botanical name: Chamaerops humilis
Also known as: European fan palm
Frond type: Palmate
How to ID it: Its trunk is covered by leaf scars that create a rough texture. Usually grown in clumps, which have up to five separate stems or trunks. Fronds are triangular shaped, grow upright, and are about 2 feet wide. Leaves are gray-green to blue-green.
Landscape uses: This cold-hard species produces multiple trunks, which are covered with a dense mat of old leaf bases that create a rough texture. The triangular-shaped fronds grow upright and are about 2 feet across. Leaves are dark green to silvery gray and stems have sharp teeth. The fruit and flowers aren't as showy as other palm species. Fan palms are hardy to 0°. Zones 4 to 24, H1, H2.
Height: Grows slowly to about 20 feet.
Native to: The Mediterranean region. It can be found in southwestern Europe (Malta, Sicily, Spain, Portugal, Italy, France, and northwest Africa (Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia)
Botanical name: Syagrus romanzoffiana
Also known as: Cocos plumosa
Frond Type: Palmate
How to ID it: A queen palm has a smooth, straight trunk ringed with evenly spaced leaf scars and graceful, glossy, plume-like fronds. It has orange-red fruits that can get messy when they drop.
Landscape uses: Beautiful palms that provide a nice vertical effect in larger residential properties. It's best not to plant them near a path, patio, or pool because of their messy fruit droppings.
Height: Grows to 50 feet or more.
Native to: Brazil and South America.
Botanical name: Trachycarpus fortunei
Also known as: Chusan palm and Chinese windmill palm.
Frond Type: Palmate
How to ID it: Windmills have slim trunks with hairy black Fronds are sword-like and about 4 feet in diameter. Colors range from dark green to yellow-green, with a silver-green on its underside. Pinnate fronds grow in an upward direction.
Landscape uses: A very popular palm with home gardeners, windmills are ideal in the landscape, as a patio tree, or in a container, either indoors or out. Unlike other palms, it can be grown in USDA zones 7 to11, in states like Alaska, Massachusetts, Mississippi, and New York.
Height: Slow growing, but can reach 20 to 40 feet in height.
Native to: Central and eastern China.