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Palm Tree Identification

A fan and feather leaf palm

Sometimes making an accurate palm tree identification can be challenging and confusing.

It is much easier if you know what to look for.

Here is where I’ll break down all the different characteristics to guide you.

The factors to consider are:

  • leaves
  • presence of crownshaft
  • trunk, overall size,
  • flowers and fruit,
  • growing conditions, location
  • and whether it is a clumping or singular variety.


Leaves are a great way to start to narrow down your palm tree identification.

Are the leaves feather shaped- pinnate, or fan shaped- palmate?

If they are bi-pinnate then it is automatically one of the fishtail varieties.

Easy to tell anyway... their leaves look like their name implies.

Are there any spines on the leaf stems? If so where are they, how long and what color? Are they only on the new growth leaves or on all?

If feather shaped do the segments present horizontally from the leaf stem evenly, or do they present a twist? What shape are they?

Do they all grow straight out of the leaf stem like with the coconut palm or do they seem to alternate their growth up and down giving a more ruffled appearance like the foxtail palm?

How do they grow out of the tree? In a straight up presentations like the triangle and bottle palm, or do they come out more flat? Are the leaves themselves arching?

How wide and long are they? What is their color? These are all important keys.

coconut Palm-Coco Nucifera
Foxtail Palm Trees- Wodyetia Bifurcata

Foxtail palm above

Coconut palm left

If the tree has a fan shaped leaf are they circular or semi-circular?

Are the segmented at all? Some are only a bit others quite a bit. If divided how deep into the leaf center do the segments go- half way, 2/3 or 3/4?

Are the segments stiff or soft and hanging? Examples: stiff- Bismarck palm, floppy -Chinese fan palm.

What color are they on both the top side and underside? How large across are they?

Your Ultimate Palm Tree Handbook
Saw Palmetto Leaf.
Chinese Fan Palm Leaf


Trunks can play a very important part of your palm tree identification.

First and foremost is: does it even have an above ground trunk? Some palms grow their trunks more underground than above.

What color is the trunk? Is it smooth or rough?

What kind of pattern is left in it from the old leaves? Examples are circular, semi circular, diamond shaped or other pattern. Are they tight knit and close or further apart?

Palm Trunk Diamond Pattern

Diamond Pattern

Circular Pattern

Coconut Palm Trunk

Does it have old leaf bases stuck to it? Does it shed the leaves on its own or does it require pruning?

What about the presence of fibers. What color and consistency are they? Are they, matted, woven or stringy?

Are there needles or spines on the trunk or old leaf bases? How long, what color and where they are growing from are all factors.

What is the diameter and thickness of the trunk? Is it a single trunk variety or a clumping variety?

Is there a bulge and if so where, bottom, middle top? How much of one?

Pindo Palm-Butia Capitata
Fishtail Palm-Caryota mitis

Crownshaft Part of Palm Tree Identification

Is there a crownshaft?

On some palms the leaf stems actually attach to a section of the trunk by a crownshaft that wraps around the trunk.

A good example: the royal palm has a crownshaft but the coconut palm does not.

What color is the crownshaft? There are a variety of colors.

How long is it down the trunk? Some are 1-2 feet others 4 plus feet long.

royal palm with crownshaft
coconut palm no crownshaft

Without crownshaft above

With crownshaft left

Flowers and Fruit

Once the tree has flowered does it get fruit where the flowers were?

Some trees are male and some female—as with the date palms.

Then only the females will bear fruit after cross pollination with a male by Mother Nature.

Others have both flower sexes on the same tree like the royal palm.

How big and what shape are the fruits? What color are they when they first start and then once ripe?

For instance there is quite a large difference between the fruits on a coconut tree and a Pindo palm.

Mexican fan palm with flower sprays
Giant Fishtail palm with fruit

Growing Conditions and Location

The 2 factors of growing conditions and location can help you narrow the palm tree identification.

This is especially true of tree growing naturally in the wild.

Where is the tree and what’s the climate? For instance: Dry and arid like California or moist and humid like Florida?

What does the temperature drop to in the winter time? Does the tree have any freeze damage?

What kind of soil is it in? Examples: Rocky, sandy, wet and what’s the best guess on pH level?

What is the sun exposure? Part sun or full, part to heavy shade and how well is the tree doing in its location?

Date Palm in desert
Coconut Palm next to ocean

Determining whether the tree prefers being an under story plant-in the shade of other trees- or likes the wide open spaces will help.

I hope that these factors will help guide you to making your palm tree identification.

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NOTE :  About Buying Palms

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They are a huge nursery based in Florida with connections to many quality growers.

Whether you are ordering from inside the United States, Canada or another part of the world-- ordering one tree for your landscape or many for a commercial project-- I’m confident you won’t be disappointed.

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Make sure to visit real palm trees, ask questions and read the reviews before buying anywhere else.

Palm Tree Store

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Other articles that you may find useful:

Palm leaves, trunks, fruit pages all have more information on them with photos.

The types of palm trees page has a list of palms broken down into some of the above categories.

Articles on small, mediumlarge and cold hardy types used in landscapes also have the appropriate palms listed

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