The famous botanist and father of modern biological naming Carolus Linnaeus considered palms to be the "princes" of the plant world. They are one of the largest families of plants with 2,500 to 3,500 different species. Most grow in tropical and subtropical regions and are upright solitary trees with symmetrical crowns. The date and coconut palms are widely grown as a food crop. Other palms are grown for their decorative appeal or for use as building materials, where both the wood and leaf fibers are used.
The coconut palm (scientific name Cocos nucifera) is one of the most important palms grown all around the tropics. The fruit is eaten raw and used in cooking. The tree is popular for landscapes and can often be found planted along streets and in parking lots. It is highly tolerant of hurricane force winds as well as salt spray.
Coconut palms reach 50 to 60 feet high with a crown width of 15 to 25 feet. They need full sun and well-draining soil. They are only suitable for frost free tropical areas in USDA zones 10B through 11. They produce fruit continuously throughout the year, which can become a problem along streets and sidewalks or above parked cars.
The windmill palm (scientific name Trachycarpus fortunei) is a cold-hardy palm native to the mountainous regions of southern China where it frequently receives freezing weather and snow cover. It will grow in USDA zones 7b through 10. They grow 20 to 40 feet tall with a defined trunk that is rough when young and smooths out as the tree matures. The green circular-shaped leaves are 3 feet long and have a powdery blue cast. Windmill palms like light shade and a rich well-draining soil. They are salt spray tolerant and moderately wind resistant.
The date palm (scientific name Phoenix dactylifera) is thought to have originated in the dry areas around the Persian Gulf. Ancient archeological evidence suggests dates were being grown for food as far back as 4,000 B.C.
Date palms are tall trees growing to 100 to 120 feet with 20-foot-long leaves. The 1- to 3-inch-long fruit is produced on female plants in large clusters of up to 10,000 if it is pollinated. They need full sun in a warm, dry climate. If the humidity remains too high or there is rain while the fruit is ripening, they will be damaged. The palm is grown all over the tropical and subtropical areas of the world but only produces usable fruit in dry regions. They can tolerate infrequent and brief temperature drops to 20 degrees Fahrenheit, but prefer warm weather. Date palms are commonly grown in California and Arizona, but the largest producer of dates is Iraq.