Types of Palm Trees

List of Cold-Hardy Kinds (Including Both Pinnate and Palmate Examples)

Image: Palm tree on tropical beach.
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Nothing else gives a landscape that tropical feel quite like palm trees. But beginners may be bewildered by all of the different types available. Which ones should you choose? The answer will depend largely on three factors with which you must acquaint yourself: height, sunlight requirements, and how cold-hardy they are. 

For the convenience of beginners seeking a quick reference, let's divide the types of palm trees into two broad categories (technically, a third category also exists that is a cross between the two, called, "costapalmate").

These categories are based on differences in leaf structure:

  • Palmate
  • Pinnate

A "palmate" leaf has lobes fanning out from a common point. The structure resembles an opened hand, with fingers radiating out from the palm. A "pinnate" leaf has individual leaflets branching out on both sides of a common axis. The structure resembles a feather (pinna is Latin for "feather").

The following types of palm trees represent merely a small sampling of the vast number of varieties from which you may choose. Selections were made with the intention of giving beginners some idea of the diversity of palm trees in terms of height and sunlight requirements. Only relatively cold-hardy kinds are included, since gardeners who live in regions where tender types will survive need less help on this topic. Figures are based on the information provided at Junglemusic.net.

Types of Palm Trees With Palmate Leaves

  • Lady palm trees (Rhapis excelsa)
    1. Cold-hardiness: to 22 degrees Fahrenheit
    2. Height: 4 to 8 feet
    3. Sunlight requirement: shade or filtered light

     

    • Puerto Rican thatch palm trees (Coccothrinax alta)
    1. Cold-hardiness: to 28 to 30 degrees Fahrenheit
    2. Height: 25 feet
    3. Sunlight requirement: full sun

     

    • Silver saw palmetto palm trees (Acoelorrhaphe wrightii)
      1. Cold-hardiness: to 20 degrees Fahrenheit
      2. Height: 15 to 20 feet
      3. Sunlight requirement: full sun

      Types of Palm Trees With Pinnate Leaves

      • Mountain cabbage palm trees (Prestoea acuminata var. Montana)
      1. Cold-hardiness: 30 to 32 degrees Fahrenheit
      2. Height: 20 to 25 feet
      3. Sunlight requirement: filtered or partial sun

       

      • Queen palm trees (Syagrus romanzoffiana)
      1. Cold-hardiness: to 20 degrees Fahrenheit
      2. Height: 50 feet
      3. Sunlight requirement: full sun

       

      • Date palm trees (Phoenix dactylifera)
      1. Cold-hardiness: to 18 degrees Fahrenheit
      2. Height: 50 feet
      3. Sunlight requirement: full sun

      But What About the Coconuts?

      Coconut palms (Cocos nucifera) have been conspicuous by their absence so far. Although they are the most famous kind of palm, they have been left out because they cannot survive in regions where it gets even moderately cold in winter. Native to the western Pacific, they are suited to USDA plant hardiness zones 10 to 12. In the United States, they grow well in only the hottest, most humid areas, such as southern Florida.

      Houseplants, Landscape Plantings

      Phil Bergman at Junglemusic.net recommends the Lady palm trees for use as houseplants, along with Kentia palm trees (Howeia) and Bamboo palm trees (Chamaedorea seifrizii).

      Although mention of "palm trees" conjures up an image of bright, sunny skies, not all palm trees can stand full sun. If you have a sun-drenched yard but desire to grow a short variety that likes partial shade to full shade (for example, lady palm trees), consider planting a taller, sun-loving palm tree first (for example, Queen palm trees).

      If you adopt this strategy, you will have to wait for the taller specimen to achieve some height before planting the shorter type of palm tree, so that the former provides a canopy for the latter. Just make sure both have sufficient cold-hardiness for your area. Again, this is why success in growing palm trees is founded on one's knowledge of their cold hardiness, height, and sunlight requirements. 

      Other plants useful for injecting a tropical feel into your landscaping include:

      Mix such plants in with your palm plantings for a more convincing tropical look.