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How to Identify the Names of Florida Palm Trees

By Sarah Terry ; Updated September 21, 2017
Florida palm trees
The Dock image by lynnmohd2 from Fotolia.com

Out of the thousands of palm species, only a few are native to Florida. Naturally cold-tender, Florida palms are most abundant and vigorous in the subtropical Southern Florida region. Identifying palm trees can seem daunting, mostly because at first glance they all look quite similar. If you take a closer look at the Florida palm trees and take notice of their size and growth form, you can soon narrow down your list of potential Florida palm tree names.

Identify the needle palm (Rhapidophyllum hystrix) by its 8-foot mature height and width of 5 to 10 feet. The needle palm is slow-growing and produces red summer flowers, followed by yellowish fruits that are eaten by larger birds and mammals.

Spot the dwarf palmetto (Sabal minor), also called the blue-stem palmetto, by its reddish fruits that attract birds and other wildlife in fall. This palm grows 4 to 9 feet tall and wide, with large, fan-shaped sprays of fronds growing from single, thick stems.

Look for an upright, 25- to 60-foot-tall tree to identify the cabbage palm (Sabal palmetto), also known as the Sabal palm or cabbage palmetto. This palm, which is Florida’s official state tree, blooms in white flowers during summer.

Saw palmettos
palms and saw palmettos image by Stacey Lynn Payne from Fotolia.com

Identify the saw palmetto (Serenoa repens) by its yellowish-white flowers that bloom in the spring, followed by round black fruits that attract mammals and large birds. This slow-growing palm reaches only 3 to 10 feet in height and width.

Look for a 1- to 5-foot-tall and 3- to 5-foot-wide plant with feathery, compound fronds to identify the Coontie (Zamia floridana), also called the Florida arrowroot or Florida zamia. The Coontie is the only cycad native to Florida, and its foliage turns brown when temperatures dip down below 30 degrees Fahrenheit.

Spot the Paurotis palm or saw cabbage palm (Acoelorrhaphe wrightii) by its upright, multiple-trunked form. The Paurotis palm grows 15 to 30 feet tall and 10 to 15 feet wide, blooming in yellowish-white flowers in the springtime. This palm tree has round, greenish fruits that grow at the ends of reddish-orange, rope-like stems.

Look for the scrub palmetto (Sabal etonia) growing in sandy areas, growing up to only 6 feet tall and wide with clumps of upright, narrow, pointed fronds. The scrub palmetto blooms with inconspicuous flowers from spring until summer, followed by small black berries in summer through fall.

Identify the silver palm (Coccothrinax argentata) by looking for its upright form, growing 3 to 15 feet tall and 6 to 7 feet wide at maturity. The silver palm blooms with white flowers in summer and produces large, chain-like clusters of green berries that are an important food source for deer in Florida.

Look for a slow-growing palm tree with yellow flowers blooming in summer to spot the Buccaneer palm or Sargent’s Palm (Pseudophoenix sargentii). Growing 10 to 40 feet tall and 10 to 20 feet wide in sandy, dry soils, this palm tree has a distinct, ringed trunk and produces grape-sized red fruits.

Identify the brittle thatch palm or key thatch palm (Thrinax morrisii) by its white summer flowers and white round berry-like fruits. Growing 15 to 20 feet tall and 6 to 10 feet wide, the brittle thatch palm attracts birds and can grow in many different types of soils.

Coconut palm trees
coconut palms image by Adrian Hillman from Fotolia.com

Spot the coconut palm (Cocos nucifera) growing to 100 feet tall or more with a high, compact canopy and extremely tall, slender trunk. Look for the orange-husked coconuts that turn brownish as they ripen.

Identify the Florida royal palm (Roystonea regia) by looking for its tall, smooth, gray trunk and 15 to 20 large, shiny green leaves that are composed of 8-inch-long leaflets in rows along the 10-foot stems. The Florida royal palm has a fast growth rate and reaches staggering heights that rival that of the coconut palm.

 

Tips

  • Many other palm trees are found in Florida, although they're not native to the state. The most common of these palms include the bamboo or miniature fishtail palms (Chamaedorea spp.), the Mediterranean or European fan palm (Chamaerops humilis), true date palms (Phoenix dactylifera), the Canary Island date palm (Phoenix canariensis), the windmill palm (Trachycarpus fortunei), the Bismarck palm (Bismarckia nobilis) and fan palms (Livistona spp.).
  • The silver palm, Buccaneer palm, brittle thatch and Florida thatch palms grow natively in South Florida, while the Paurotis palm and scrub palmetto grow in both Central and South Florida. The Coontie, needle palm, dwarf palmetto, cabbage palm and saw palmetto grow natively throughout all regions of Florida.

Warning

  • Don't confuse the Florida thatch palm (Thrinax radiata) with the brittle thatch palm, which both look very similar. The Florida thatch palm has a longer, thinner trunk. Unlike the slow-growing brittle thatch palm, the Florida thatch palm has a moderate growth rate and grows mostly in sandy soils.

About the Author

 

Sarah Terry brings over 10 years of experience writing novels, business-to-business newsletters and a plethora of how-to articles. Terry has written articles and publications for a wide range of markets and subject matters, including Medicine & Health, Eli Financial, Dartnell Publications and Eli Journals.