Date Palms, also known as the Phoenix Palms, are a group of very popular palm trees that can be spotted throughout Florida and the Greater Tampa Bay area. Although there are many different species of Date Palms in the Phoenix Palms group there is only one true Date Palm Tree and that is the Phoenix Dactylifera.
All Date Palms share a few distinct characteristics, starting with their fronds. All Date Palms fronds are pinnate, meaning they resemble a feather where all the leaflets extend out along one central axes, like a feather. In addition, these palms fronds, or leaves, create an upward V-shape; whereas the downward V-shape is much more common in varying palm tree species. Lastly the Phoenix Palms share the unique characteristic of all being what is referred to as dioecious, meaning they are either male or female. As a result, these palms cannot produce viable seeds for fruit without one another. For example, if the female Date Palm’s blossoms are not pollinated, they will simply fall off without producing fruit.
Despite their many similarities, the Phoenix Palms all have their own unique identifying traits. For example, there are thirteen different species of Date Palms in the Phoenix Palm Tree family; however only four of the thirteen have a single trunk. Below we have provided some information on four of the more common Date Palm Trees that can be seen throughout the Greater Tampa Bay area, including the one and only true Date Palm Tree.
Date Palm Tree (Phoenix Dactylifera)
The true Date Palm Tree is the Phoenix Dactylifera, which means date bearing. Growing anywhere from 70-90-feet high this date palm tree’s coloring goes from brown to gray and it has knobby leaf bases which are close together and wear away with age. The Date Palm’s fronds, or leaves, can grow up to 20-feet long and have a feather like, or pinnate, appearance. The palms leaflets are stiff and grow out of the rachis in a V-shape. Coloring of these can vary from gray-green to blue-green. At the base of each frond the leaflets turn into sharp orange colored spines.
The sweet dates that it produces are green and as they ripen they get a dark reddish orange or reddish brown. The true Date Palm is the only species of date palm that is grown as a crop for the harvesting and marketing of its fruit.
The Date Palm produces a small white flower that develops in clusters.
Wild Date Palm Tree (Phoenix Sylvestris)
With maturity the Wild Date Palm Tree can grow to reach heights of 40-50-feet. The date palm’s trunk is tan with triangularly shaped old leaf bases. Its leaves will grow around 10-15-feet long and are pinnately compound with a slight curve. The leaflets can be blue-green and tend to crisscross on each other. Towards the bottom or base of the fronds the leaflets turn into sharp yellow spines.
This palm tree produces an oval shaped fruit that is orange, but when ripened turns a dark purple. This fruit can be used to make wines and jelly.
The Wild Date Palm produces flowers that are unisexual and can be both cream or tan in color. The flowers grow in clusters from a yellow-orange stalk.
Senegal Date Palm Tree (Phoenix Reclinata)
The Senegal Date Palm is an elegant multi-stemmed clumping palm tree, commonly thought of as a resort-style palm tree. This palm tree’s name Reclinate is derivative of its curved trunks that some would describe as being “reclined”. Each stem of the Senegal Date Palm can reach heights of 35-feet and its wide-reaching fronds extend up to 15-feet in length providing an abundance of shade. The trunk itself directly beneath the crown is brown with fibers. As you go further down the trunk it will smooth and the color shifts to gray. The leaflets extend from the rachis at different angles and grow to be about a foot long. Each leaflet is stiff and shiny bright to dark green, converting into orange colored spines at the base.
The male Senegal Date Palm does not produce a fruit; the lack of fruit production is one distinguishing characteristic for identify the gender of this palm tree. The female however does produce a fruit and it is edible. The fruit of the female Senegal Date Palm is orange and oblong. The fruit grows in a cluster hanging in a pendant.
The flowers of this date palm are another distinguishing characteristic for identifying the tree’s gender. The male Senegal Date Palm produces a flower that is a pale, somewhat dingy, yellow and its florets will fall off shortly after blooming. The female palm tree produces florets that are white in color and grow in clusters.
Canary Island Date Palm Tree (Phoenix Canariensis)
The Canary Island Date Palm Tree is easily recognizable, when it is pruned, because the bottom of the crown looks like a giant pineapple. Because of its resemblance to that of a pineapple it is commonly referred to as the pineapple palm. This palm tree is a common choice in southern landscapes and is frequently found lining boulevards and streets. The Canary Island Date Palm’s fronds, or leaves, are a dark olive-green color and have a feathery appearance that can extend up to 15-feet in length. When mature the crown of the date palm often consists of well over 100 fronds that are comprised of sharp pointed leaflets making the signature V-shape of a Phoenix Palm.
The date palm does produce an edible fruit that is oblong in shape and orange. However, even though this fruit is edible many choose not to harvest its fruit since it is so small.
This date palm tree also produces a very pretty flower that consists of white florets growing in clusters from an orangish stalk.
As you can see the Phoenix Palm tree family shares many similarities with each Date Palm having its own uniquely identifiable traits. Though we do confess these differences may be very challenging for an individual to spot if you are not a palm tree expert or Date Palm enthusiast. However, we do hope this guide will aid you in identifying some of the various Date Palms that can be spotted throughout Tampa landscapes.
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