How to Identify Types of Palm Plants

Updated February 21, 2017

Thousands of different species of palm trees (Arecaceae) grow in semitropical and tropical locations around the world. Because there are so many different species, identification of some palm trees is rather difficult. Even horticultural experts are challenged when trying to identify a rare type of palm species. Common varieties, used as "parlor palms" or houseplants, can be found in nurseries and for sale from online vendors.

Look at the fruit of the palm tree. Coconut palm trees (Cocos nucifera) are one of the most common types of palm trees. The fruit of the coconut palm tree has sustained people for aeons. The fronds of the tree are used to build thatched roofs, mats and baskets. The tasty coconut milk and chewy meat provide food. Coconut oil is used for cooking and in the production of a diverse array of both food and body care products. Coir products are made from the fibrous husks. Coconut palm trees reach heights of 60 to 90 feet at maturity.

Examine the growing habit and height of the palm tree. Many palms are very slow growing and are adaptable to pot or container planting. Lady palms (Rhapis species) are often purchased as "parlor palms" as they grow well in a sunny, indoor location. They will live, undisturbed for decades, in the same sized pot or restricted location. The sago palm grows less than an inch a year. Other species of palm trees, including the European fan palm (Chamaerops humilis), present a larger trunk and very large leaves. The European fan palm presents leave that are over 4 feet wide.

Study the shape of the trunk of the palm tree. Some palm trees produce multiple trunks; however, most palm trees have a single, strong trunk with a basal flare. The Hawaiian palm tree (Brighamia insignis), also known as Vulcan palm, is one of the rarest plants on Earth, with only seven plants known to exit on the Island of Kauai. The Vulcan palm has a very thick trunk with a pronounced base.

Things You'll Need

  • Palm tree identification guidebook
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About the Author

A passionate writer for more than 30 years, Marlene Affeld writes of her love of all things natural. Affeld's passion for the environment inspires her to write informative articles to assist others in living a green lifestyle. She writes for a prominent website as a nature travel writer and contributes articles to other online outlets covering wildlife, travel destinations and the beauty of nature.