Palm trees are common in all of the world's tropical regions. Over 1,000 species of palms exist, from the Pygmy date palm to the towering Queen palm. Most palms have a tall trunk with no side branches, with an array of lacy fronds that grow from the apex. Certain palms, such as the date palms, produce the gourmet delicacy hearts of palm, while other trees yield palm oil.
The Phoenix genus includes several palm species that produce the edible drupe fruit known as the date. The African date palm (Phoenix dactylifera), Canary Island date palm (Phoenix canariensis) and the Senegal date palm (Phoenix reclinata) are the main date-producing palm trees native to areas in or near the African continent. The Pygmy date palm (Phoenix roebelenii) comes from Southeast Asia and grows to only 12 feet in height and is often used as a houseplant in areas outside of the tropics.
The coconut palm, or Cocos nucifera, lives in tropical areas throughout the world, although it is believed to be native to Malaysia, in the South Pacific. Coconuts, the large "nut" that this tree produces, make up one of the major agricultural crops from the tropical world. Coconut palms grow to 100 feet or more during their long lifespan.
Both edible and nonedible oils are derived from certain palm species. The African oil palm (Elaeis guineensis) produces an oily fruit with seeds that have palmitic acid. It is cultivated for its oil, which is processed and then used in candles and soaps. Palm kernel oil comes from the kernel of the oil palm's fruit, and though not edible, it is an ingredient often used in soap. The Pataua palm (Oenocarpus bataua), from Brazil, gives us an oil from its fruit that is similar to olive oil, with as much protein as some animal protein.
The Peach palm (Bactris gasipaes) is an Amazonian palm tree that has an edible fruit that tastes like a chestnut mixed with a potato when cooked. The Chilean wine palm (Jubaea chilensis) produces small coconut-like fruits called coquitos; its sap has also been used to make wine. In Southeast Asia, a popular pastry called Kanom Look Tan is made from Thai sweet palm seeds. Other palms with edible fruit include the Pejibaye palm, Saw palmetto, Betel nut, Jelly palm and the Amazonia starnut palm.
Several palm species are well adapted as houseplants in temperate climates. One of the most common is the Areca palm (Dypsis lutescens)---it is known as one of the best plants for introducing oxygen into indoor environments. The Pygmy date palm (Phoenix roebelenii) serves as an attractive indoor palm. And the Sago palm (Cycas revoluta), although not officially a palm, is often grown indoors.