Facts on Native Florida Palm Trees
There are eleven species of palm native to the state of Florida, but only seven that reach a size or shape that is treelike, such as more than 8 to 10 feet in height or having one trunklike stem. These native palms have differing tolerances to winter cold, affecting where in the state they will grow outdoors. Florida encompasses U.S. Department of Agriculture Hardiness Zones 8 through 11.
The paurotis or Everglades palm (Acoelorrhaphe wrightii) is a clump-forming palm with many upright, narrow stems. It is native to the moist, often brackish wetlands of southernmost Florida, including the expansive Everglades. Its fronds are fanlike, or palmate, and a bright green. The frond stems, called petioles, are lined with small spines that are stout and curved. This palm flowers in the heat of late spring or summer with long, arching flower stalks that protrude from the clusters of fronds. The berries are orange and ripen to black. This palm slowly grows to 20 to 30 feet in height and is hardy in USDA Zones 10 and warmer.
Florida Silver Palm
Very slow-growing, the Florida silver palm (Coccothrinax argentata) has a solitary, narrow trunk that reaches a maximum height of 20 feet, although that height is rare. It is native to the rocky soil pinelands of southernmost Florida, often within the reach of ocean salt spray. The fanlike leaves are deeply cut but have many straplike segments that are bright green above but with a silvery, hairy underside. In summer's warmth, it creates a flower stalk that yields small black berries. Grow this native in Zones 10 and warmer.
Also called the cherry palm, the buccaneer palm (Pseudophoenix sargentii) is found only in the Florida Keys and is regarded as one of the most sea spray- and drought-tolerant palms. Slow-growing, its singular trunk reaches a mature height of 10 feet, but extremely old plants can reach heights of nearly 25 feet. The fronds are featherlike, or pinnate, and gray-green and arch gracefully. Tiny yellow flowers are borne on a branched flower stalk in summer, later yielding orange-red berries that are two- or three-lobed. It does not tolerate frost and grows in Zones 10 and warmer.
Although often associated with Cuba, there is a distinct population of native royal palms (Roystonea regia) in Collier, Monroe and Dade counties in extreme southern Florida. The royal palm is tall, reaching heights of 80 to 130 feet with a gray, columnar trunk. The fronds are large and heavy and are a bright to deep green and featherlike, or pinnate. Its fruits are reddish brown to purplish black when mature. This palm grows best in moist soils but tolerates average garden conditions perfectly, although temperatures below 25 degrees Fahrenheit are to its detriment. It grows best in the warmest, southernmost parts of Zones 9 through 11.
Florida's state tree, cabbage palm or sabal palm (Sabal palmetto) is slow-growing, with mature singular trunks reaching heights of 40 to 80 feet. The palmate, or fanlike, fronds are olive-green to slightly blue-green and have deep cuts in them. The white flowers appear on branched flower stalks among the fronds in early summer and produce abundant crops of small black fruits. The trunks may retain the lowermost "boot" of the fronds, creating a cross-hatched texture, while some plants shed these boots and look smooth. You can grow this palm all across Florida, in Zones 8 and warmer.
Brittle Thatch Palm
Native to harsh coastal forests or rocky outcroppings, the brittle thatch palm (Thrinax morrisii) is slow-growing, with a singular trunk that reaches 15 to 30 feet in height. It is rare in the wild today. It has fanlike fronds with deep cuts that are a dull light green. It produces small white fruits. The leaves traditionally were used as thatch to make brooms. It is best cultivated in Zones 10 and warmer.
Florida Thatch Palm
This native palm resembles the brittle thatch palm but is faster-growing and taller at maturity, 18 to 30 feet. The fanlike fronds are medium green and deeply cut and form small white berry fruits after flowering in summer. The palm should not be grown where winter frosts are expected, so it should be planted in gardens in Zones 10 and warmer.
- "A Gardener's Guide to Florida's Native Plants"; Rufino Osorio; 2001
- "An Encyclopedia of Cultivated Palms"; Robert Lee Riffle and Paul Craft; 2003