Palm trees: all about these plants

Palm trees are plants of exceptional beauty . Its stipe (what we would call trunk) grows upwards as if it wanted to reach the sky, and its beautiful leaves wave with the wind every time it blows between its leaflets, even its flowers, which are grouped in highly branched inflorescences, make the Ornamental value of these vegetables will only increase.

I admit it: I am in love with these plants. But maybe you are too, or soon will be. For this reason, in this special article we are going to talk at length about them : their characteristics, types, main species, uses,… and more.


  • 1 What is the origin of palm trees?
  • 2 Are they trees or grasses?
  • 3 What are the characteristics of palm trees?
  • 4 main varieties
    • 4.1 Areca catechu
    • 4.2 Ceroxylon quindiuense
    • 4.3 Chamaedorea elegans
    • 4.4 Chamaerops humilis
    • 4.5 Cyrtostachys renda
    • 4.6 Dypsis lutescens
    • 4.7 Howea forsteriana
    • 4.8 Phoenix canariensis
    • 4.9 Phoenix dactylifera
  • 5 How are they cared for?
  • 6 Palm Tree Problems
    • 6.1 Pests
    • 6.2 Diseases
  • 7 What are they for?

What is the origin of palm trees?

Young Nikau Palms

This type of plants began to inhabit the planet Earth approximately 145 million years ago , during the Cretaceous. At that time, huge reptiles inhabited the planet: the dinosaurs, which shared the territory with the placental mammals, that is, with those animals that protect their young inside the placenta until they develop enough to be able to live in the outside, like us humans.

The fight for survival must not have been very easy for the palm trees, since many dinosaurs fed basically on grass, such as the Supersaurus, which grew to 15 meters in height. If we take into account that today the tallest palm tree, the Ceroxylon quindiuense ,  which measures about 60 meters, has a very slow growth (about 20cm per year when it is young), of ten seeds that should have germinated, only one or two survived .

Are they trees or grasses?

Washingtonia filifera

It is often thought that talking about palm trees is talking about trees, but that is a mistake. These plants are herbaceous , and that is something that we can see as soon as the seed germinates: unlike trees, which have two cotyledons (two first leaves), palm trees only have one, which is what gives them the appearance of grass of lawn This means that they are monocot plants . But the differences do not end here.

Monocots don’t have a true trunk because they don’t have a true secondary growth, so when you cut it down, you wouldn’t see the annual rings that trees and other dicots have. In the specific case of our protagonists, the trunk is renamed stipe or stem. In addition, the leaves have visible ribs, which are parallel .

What are the characteristics of palm trees?

Palm trees are a type of plant that belongs to the botanical family Arecaceae (formerly Palmae) distributed throughout the temperate and warm regions of the world. About 3000 species are known, and all of them (or most) have these parts:

  • Roots : they are superficial, which means that they develop a few centimeters -no more than 60cm- from the surface of the soil.
  • Stipe : can be ringed or smooth, with the rest of the leaves dry or without. There are some species that do not have it or have it very short, such as the Arenga australasica or the Wallichia densiflora .
  • Inflorescences : if they are new, they are usually protected by the spathe. Once they open, they are called spadices.
  • Capital : is the part that joins the stipe with the leaves. In the event that it was cut, the plant would die as leaf growth emerges from it.
  • Crown or cup : it is made up of the leaves or fronds that can be pinnate or fan-shaped.

main varieties

Writing about the 3,000 species of palms in a single article would be impossible, so I am going to tell you about the ones that are easier to find in nurseries and online stores.

areca catchu

Areca catechu plantation

The Areca Nut or Betel Palm , as it is sometimes called, is a monoecious palm -there are male and female feet- native to Asia and Oceania. It has a rapid growth rate until it reaches 30 meters in height . Its trunk thickens up to 30cm in diameter, and is crowned by pinnate leaves up to 3m long with 2-3cm wide, dark green leaflets.

Unfortunately, it is very sensitive to cold and frost , and if you grow it in an area where the temperature in summer rises above 30ºC, you have to protect it from direct sunlight. However, it can be indoors as long as it is in a room that receives a lot of light from outside.

Ceroxylon quindiuense

Specimens of Ceroxylon quindiuense

Known as the Wax Palm or the Quindío Wax Palm , it is a plant native to the Andean valleys of the Los Nevados National Natural Park, located in the Valle del Cocora of the Department of Quindío, in the coffee growing region of Colombia. It is the tallest palm tree, being able to reach 60m and even exceed them . The leaves are pinnate, dark green above and silvery or greyish below. The trunk is cylindrical, smooth, and covered with wax.

Due to its origin, it is a species that can only grow well in areas where the climate is temperate-cold all year round . The temperature in its place of origin ranges between 12 and 19ºC on average, so in hot climates its growth rate slows down quite a bit (in summer it does not grow at all if it goes above 25ºC). But it bears well the frosts of -8ºC.

Chamaedorea elegans

Chamaedorea elegans

The Parlor Palm or Pacaya is a dioecious palm tree (male and female flowers are in the same specimen) 2-4m tall with pinnate leaves 40-60cm long. It is native to Central America (Mexico, Guatemala and Belize). It is a plant with a single trunk that is sold in pots with several seedlings (as you can see in the image above).

It is a very easy-to-grow plant, which you can keep in a pot decorating your home for many, many years, even for the entire life of the plant. But if you want to keep it outside, you must protect it from direct sunlight and from frost below -2ºC .

Chamaerops humilis

Specimen of Chamaerops humilis

The Palmito or Margallón is one of the two palm trees native to Spain , specifically from my homeland, the Balearic Islands, found above all in the Sierra de Tramuntana (north of Mallorca). It also grows naturally in North Africa and Southwestern Europe.

It is characterized by having multiple trunks up to 3-4 meters high which are crowned by fan-shaped leaves, and by its incredible resistance to drought. In addition, it withstands cold temperatures of up to -7ºC and grows quite well in poor soils.

Cyrtostachys renda

Cyrtostachys renda palms

The Red Stem Palm is a favorite, but also one of the most delicate. It is a multi-stemmed plant native to Sumatra, which is 12m tall and has pinnate leaves 2-3m long. The stipe is very thin, barely 15cm in diameter.

It is very, very sensitive to cold : temperatures below 10ºC seriously damage it. In addition, it needs high environmental humidity and to be protected from direct sunlight.

Dypsis lutescens

Potted Dypsis lutescens

This is the palm that we know best as Areca or Yellow Areca, but we should not get confused. Other names it receives are Palma de Frutos de Oro, Palmera Bambú or Palma Areca. Dypsis lutescens is a multi – stemmed palm -with several trunks- native to Madagascar. Its leaves are pinnate, 2 to 3m long, and its trunk is ringed, measuring 4-5m high .

It is relatively easy to care for, as it resists light frosts well down to -1ºC as long as they are punctual and short-lived. This is very interesting, since by growing it indoors we won’t have to worry too much about cold air currents entering when we open the door. Of course, it needs a lot of light (but not direct).

Howea forsteriana

Adult specimen of the kentia palm tree

The Kentia is one of the most cultivated palms indoors. It is endemic to Lord Howe Island, which gives it the name of the genus to which it belongs (Howea). It reaches about 15 meters in height, with a simple and ringed trunk of 13cm in diameter . The leaves are pinnate and long, up to 3m.

Due to its slow growth and beauty, it is often kept in a pot for years, both indoors and in the patio or garden in semi-shade. It resists frost down to -5ºC without suffering significant damage.

phoenix canariensis

Specimen of Phoenix canariensis

One of the two palm trees native to Spain. The Canary Island Palm or Canary Island Palm is endemic to the Canary Islands. Its leaves are pinnate and can measure 5-6m long. The trunk is very thick, up to 3m in diameter at its base, and grows to a height of 10m . It is often planted in gardens and parks.

It easily resists frost down to -7ºC , so you can keep it outside in an area where it receives direct sunlight.

phoenix dactylifera

Adult date palms

The date palm or tamara is a species of great economic importance due to its fruits: dates. It is believed to be native to Southwest Asia, but today it has become naturalized in North Africa, and one could almost say in the Mediterranean region as well.

It is a multi-stemmed plant that reaches 30m in height, with a trunk that measures 20 to 50cm in diameter. The leaves are pinnate, glaucous green. Due to its size, in addition to its fruits, it is highly recommended to have it in the gardens, since it can withstand drought and cold temperatures of up to -8ºC .

How are they cared for?

Now that we have seen the main species, let’s see what general care they require. It is important that, depending on the variety, it may need slightly different care, so if you have any questions, ask 🙂 :

  • Location : Generally, they have to be placed outside. Most grow well in full sun, but there are others that need protection.
  • Soil or substrate : whether they are kept in a pot or in the garden, it is important that the soil has very good drainage and is rich in organic matter.
  • Irrigation : about 3 times a week in summer, and once or twice a week the rest of the year.
  • Planting or transplanting time : in spring, when the risk of frost has passed.
  • Multiplication : by seeds in spring or summer, placing them in a hermetically sealed bag with vermiculite and placing them near a heat source (it must not exceed 30ºC), or by separating the stems in spring.

palm tree problems

Red weevil on a palm leaf


  • Red spider : leaves small white dots or spots on the upper surface of the leaves, and a spider web can be seen. It is treated with Abamectin or Dicofol. 
  • Mealybugs : they are deposited on the leaves and stems, causing yellow spots caused by suction to appear. They are treated with an anti-cochineal insecticide.
  • Red Palm Weevil – The larvae of this weevil grow as they feed inside the capital, further weakening the plant. One of the first symptoms is the deviation of the central leaf. You can also suspect that it has if you see the leaves bitten, fibers that come out of the stipe. It is fought with Imidacloprid and Chlorpyrifos, (one month, and the next the other) during the spring, summer and autumn. 


  • Pink rot : necrotic spots appear on the stems. Older leaves die very quickly, turning yellow first and then drying up. Preventive treatments can be done with Triforina.
  • Fusarium wilt : the basal leaves take on a yellowish-gray hue, until they eventually dry out and the plant dies. It can be treated with Benomyl.
  • Phytophthora : is responsible for many young plants dying. The leaves dry quickly until, the least expected day, you pull them up and they come out very easily. It can be prevented by avoiding waterlogging and treating with Fosetil-Al.

What are they for?

Cocos nucifera palm tree

To decorate gardens and patios, of course 🙂 . No, they are not only used for that. There are many species that produce edible fruits , such as the Phoenix dactylifera that we have seen or the Cocos nucifera (coconut tree). The leaves are used to build roofs in many regions, as well as to make household tools , and also for farm work.

With the sap, which is released by cutting the leaves and inflorescences of some species, drinks are prepared , such as palm wine. Oils, margarine, honey and soap are obtained from some fruits.

Thus, it is about plants of singular beauty that have a great utility for the human being. What do you think of palm trees?

Palm trees: all about these plants

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