Here in Florida we enjoy a nice warm tropical climate with ample amounts of rain and humidity. As a result, our climate is perfectly suited for tropical trees, with the palm tree being one of the most sought after. With only a dozen palms being native to Florida, many of our palm trees are imported from other parts of the world. Chances are if you are living in the Tampa Bay area you have a palm or two in your yard. Palms are such a diverse family of plants it can be very difficult to identify each one. So, we have decided to put together a short guide to help you identify some of the most common palm trees that can be spotted throughout the Greater Tampa Bay area.
Palm Tree Fronds
When trying to identify your palm tree one place to start is by discerning what type of palm fronds the tree has. There are two main types of fronds, pinnate and palmate. A select few palm trees have fronds that are called costapalmate, which is a mix of the two. Here are the characteristics of each type of frond.
Palmate – Palmate fronds are fan shaped with extended leaf parts. The leaf parts are divided into segments and emerge from a single point, resembling a fan.
Pinnate – Pinnate fronds are feather shaped. The fronds are divided into leaflets, which are fixed to a single leaf axis like a feather.
Costapalmate – having a defined midrib like a pinnate, but the leaflets grow radially like a palmate.
Palm Trees Native to Florida
The Cabbage Palm, also known as the Sabal Palmetto, is native to Florida and it is the state’s official tree. This palm tree can grow up to 65-feet tall, with a tan to brown trunk, and when looking at the trunk you will notice it has the leftovers of old leaf bases also known as “boots” in a crisscross pattern going up the tree trunk. The closer you get to the top the trunk will smooth out and the color will turn light brown or gray with age. The frond of a Cabbage palm Is called costapalmate, which means it has a defined midrib like a pinnate frond that extends into the blade and goes far enough to make it curve, the leaves are fan shaped like palmate fronds. They are between 3 to 4-feet wide with a shiny green on top and gray-green coloring underneath. The leaves can split into segments that are ½ their length; all of this is attached to a petiole “shaft” that is 3 to 6-feet long. This palm also produces a small round fruit that is black in color. The Cabbage Palm produces a small and fragrant flower with a creamy white color, and they emerge in clusters on a 3 to 8-foot long branch.
Frond type: Costapalmate with a downward curve. The fronds are shiny green on top and a gray-green underneath.
Flower: Small white flower with elongated petals that grow in clusters off a long branch.
Fruit: Is small, round and black in color.
This palm is native to Florida and is known as the Everglades palm. The trunk of this palm is rather skinny and can grow up to 16 to 23-feet. It’s coloring on the trunk is reddish brown and is wrapped with fibrous matting. The leaves of this palm are 2 to 3-feet wide and palmate, meaning they resemble a fan and the divided segments grow out from a single point, and they are attached to long petiole that has sharp yellowish orange teeth. The coloring of these leaves is bright green on top with silver underneath. Paurotis palms also produce flowers and fruit. The flower is very small and can be light green to almost white in color and grows in a cluster on a long stalk. The fruit it has is as small as a pea and has a red orange color but will turn black when ripe.
Frond type: Palmate and has sharp yellowish teeth extending from the base of petiole.
Flower: Are very small can be white or even light green, they grow in clusters on a long stalk.
Fruit: It is pea sized with a red-orange color and will turn black when ripe.
The Imported Palm Trees of Florida
Mexican Fan Palm
The Mexican Fan Palm, otherwise known as the Washingtonia robusta, is an imported species to Florida. The trunk of this palm is skinny compared to most other palms and is reddish brown in color. The Mexican fan palm is extremely tall, growing between 70 to 100-feet high. As this palm ages, the trunk will turn gray or almost white and will maintain the bases of old leaves around the crown for years. Its flowers are white and small growing in clusters out of an elongated yellow stem. Mexican fan does produce fruit that is edible even though the flesh on it is rather thin. The fruit it produces is small and round it’s either blue-black or mostly black in color. The palmate leaves can be up to 4-feet wide and they are divided into segments. Its bright green leaves are attached to a long petiole which has long reddish spines.
Frond type: Palmate it also contains long reddish spines on the petiole.
Flower: Is small white and growing in clusters on long yellow stem.
Fruit:Though small it is edible with a thin layer of skin, its blue-black in color and grows on a hanging stalk.
Chinese Fan palm
Can also be found under its binomial name as (genus) livistona (species) chinensis. This palm tree is easy to grow, making it a common choice in landscapes and gardens, and can grow up to 50-feet high. Like other palms this one also keeps old leaf bases on the trunk making a ring of scars. Its leaves are costapalmate, meaning fan shaped; but they have a midrib that the leaves grow out from and can grow to 6’ wide. When the Chinese fan palm is young it does have sharp teeth near the bases of the petiole to protect against predators, but it loses these as the palm ages. The leaves are a glossy olive-green and have tons of segments shaped like blades that give it a fringed appearance. The flowers it grows emerge in clusters on their own stalk and are small with a yellowish white color. The blossoms turn into fruit that is oblong with a blue-green color.
Frond type: It is Costapalmate, only when its young does the petiole have sharp teeth on it.
Flower: Has tiny buds that grow in clusters on its own stalk, can be light yellow or white.
Fruit: Flower blossoms turn into this fruit it is oblong and has a blue-green color.
The Queen Palms binomial name is syagrus romanzoffiana, this palm is considered an ornamental garden tree. With the average height reaching around 49-feet the trunk is smooth around the bottom, but it also has the previous year’s leaf bases around the top of it. The Queen Palm trees leaves are pinnate resembling a feather and they can grow up to 15-feet in length and often arch downward, giving the tree a “drooping” appearance. Each leaf has multiple leaflets that are shaped like a blade and are a dark shiny green. The small creamy white flowers emerge in clusters from the stalks. Its fruit is a hard nut that does have a thin layer of skin and is orange in color, it is edible and sticky when ripe.
Frond type: Pinnate can grow to 15’ and has a drooping appearance.
Flower: It is cluster growing from a stalk, is a creamy white color.
Fruit: Is hard like a nut with a thin layer of skin, orange and is sticky when ripe.
Otherwise known as Butia capitate is a hearty palm. The Pindo Palm has an extremely thick trunk and can reach heights of 15 to 25-feet, which for a palm tree is not very tall. The trunk is a gray color and when young has noticeable old leaf bases, the older ones tend to just have scars of incomplete circles. The leaves themselves arch downward growing up to 7-feet and are feather shaped. Its leaflets are about 3-feet long with a silvery green to yellowish-green color and they grow at a 45-degree angle. The Pindo Palm produces small flowers that are orange-red or even yellow in color. The palm’s flowers grow in clusters from a stalk. After it flowers bright orange fruits grow in large clusters hanging down off the tree. This fruit is round and edible, it’s about the same size as a cherry.
Frond type: Pinnate and it grows at 45-degree angle.
Flower: Small red-orange or yellow, grows out of stalk in a cluster.
Fruit-: Bright orange growing in a large cluster hanging from the palm, size of a cherry, it is round and edible.
There are many similarities, and yet subtle differences, between these diverse palm tree species. However, with close observation you will find that each tree has its own set of distinguishing features that can help to identify it. The Date Palm on the other hand, is a slightly different story. The Date Palm belongs to the Phoenix Palm Tree family and is commonly found throughout Florida and the Greater Tampa Bay area. However, this family of palm trees share so many similarities that they can be quite difficult to identify. To learn more about recognizing the different types of Date Palms or Phoenix Palm trees check out this article: Date Palm or Phoenix Palm Trees.