Photographs of tropical islands and beaches often include the many types of tropical palm trees. Palms can range from small trees that do well in pots to very tall trees. The fruit of palms is often edible. Palm tree fruit includes coconuts, the betelnut and the seeds from which palm oil is extracted.
Coconut palms (Cocos nucifera) are dispersed throughout tropical areas of the world. Because it is found all over, not much is known about coconut palm's native origins, according to the University of Florida. However, a likely origin area is the Malay Archipelago in the South Pacific. Coconut palms are generally found on sandy shorelines, but can be cultivated in other tropical environments. Coconut palms grow to between 80 and 100 feet high, and there are dwarf varieties that do not grow as tall. Coconut palms grow well in many types soil, but are especially well suited to sandy soils. They require an average minimum temperature of about 72° Fahrenheit and need 30 to 50 inches of rain per year.
The African oil palm (Elaeis guineensis) is native to tropical Africa. African oil palms grow to between 60 and 80 feet high under natural conditions, but do not often exceed 30 feet when cultivated. African oil palms produce 1 to 2 inch diameter fruits that are very oily. Once processed, the fruit of the oil palm is processed into palm oil. About 90 percent of palm oil ends up as food. Oil palms grow in a wide range of soils, as long as they drain well. They need 6 feet of rain per year, with a monthly minimum of around 4 inches. Optimal growth temperatures are between 80° F and the upper 90s.
The areca palm (Dypsis lutescens), sometimes called the yellow butterfly palm or the bamboo palm, is a clumping palm that can grow multiple trunks that reach between 20 and 30 feet tall. The bamboo-like trunks grow to about 6 inches wide, and the leaves are feather-like yellowish green fronds. The overall spread of the areca palm is between 8 and 10 feet. This palm is suitable for tropical areas, but can survive in areas as cold as USDA Hardiness Zone 10. The areca palm is very tolerant of many light conditions, and will grow well in full shade, partial shade, partial sun or full sun. It will grow in most soils, and is moderately tolerant of both standing water and salt in the air or soil.