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Publication #ENH21

Ornamental Palms for South Florida 1

Timothy K. Broschat and Robert J. Black2

(See the pdf for illustrations)

Palms are a dominant part of south Florida's landscape and add a tropical image to this part of the state. Palms vary greatly in size from those that mature at a height of less than 3 feet with pencil-thick stems to monsters over 100 feet tall with trunks approaching 3 feet in diameter. Palms may be single-stemmed or have multiple trunks (clumping palms). Single-stemmed palms fit into small spaces better than most broadleaved trees because they do not branch. On the other hand, some clumping palms can become too large for typical residential landscapes. Palms may have feather-shaped (pinnate) leaves that impart a relatively fine texture, or fan-shaped (palmate or costapalmate) leaves that are very bold in texture. Some have rather rigid leaves, while others have weeping leaflets that provide additional interest in the landscape. Proper selection will ensure that the palm you plant will be appropriate for your particular site and desired effect.

Although most palms grow best in full sun, some are intolerant of direct sunlight and must be grown in shaded locations. Similarly, most palms are quite tolerant of both wet and dry soils once established. However, there are palms that cannot tolerate drought conditions and others that will not survive in very wet soils. When palms are to be planted near the coast, tolerance to salt spray is another important consideration when selecting palms. Palms listed as having high salt tolerance can be grown in exposed sites near the seashore, those with moderate salt tolerance must be planted in protected sites near the ocean, and those with low salt tolerance should not be planted within ¼ mile of the seashore.

Typically, palms will fare better in windstorms than broadleaf trees, but some are even better adapted than others. Proper palm selection will improve the chances of a palm thriving in a particular location. Table 1 lists a number of species that can be grown in south Florida landscapes. Although many other species have been successfully grown in south Florida, they are relatively rare in the nursery industry and thus are not readily available.

Palm Maintenance

Palms are often thought to be low maintenance plants in the landscape, but in south Florida's infertile soils, nutrient deficiencies are common and can result in unsightly deficiency symptoms or even death of a palm. Unlike broadleaf trees that usually grow well without fertilization, most palms in Florida landscapes require supplemental fertilization with an appropriate palm fertilizer to prevent or treat these deficiencies. For information about palm nutrient deficiencies and proper fertilization see EDIS publications EP273—Nutrient Deficiencies of Landscape and Field-grown Palms in Florida and EP261—Fertilization of Field-grown and Landscape Palms in Florida.

Another maintenance consideration is whether a palm is self-cleaning or not. Many tropical palms have tightly clasping leaf bases that form a smooth green stem-like area just above the true trunk called a crownshaft. Palms with crownshafts that do not have extensive potassium deficiency symptoms are self-cleaning. That is, old senescing leaves will fall off cleanly by themselves. When old leaves of non-crownshaft palms senesce, they will simply hang down against the trunk and must be manually cut off. It is important to note that half-dead or discolored older leaves that remain on a palm for several weeks or longer are probably exhibiting symptoms of potassium deficiency (see EDIS publication EP269—Potassium Deficiency in Palms) and not natural senescence. Natural senescence of healthy old palm leaves takes only a few days for a leaf to turn from completely green to uniformly orange-brown and finally completely dead.

Insect Problems

Although most insect pests have a minor impact on palm appearance and health and are not particular about which palms they feed on, there are some exceptions. A few palms are particularly attractive to some insect pests that can become debilitating or even fatal to the palms.

Other Considerations

In addition to palm physical appearance, susceptibility to disease or insect problems, and adaptability to a particular site, other attributes may also be important, especially if small children are present. Many palms have sharp spines on their petioles or trunks that can be quite dangerous. Others have fruits that contain high concentrations of skin-irritating chemicals. Such fruits should not be handled unless rubber gloves are worn.

Planting

Palms may be planted during any season of the year, but the warm, rainy summer months are best. Small, container-grown palms of any species can be transplanted easily. However, some species such as Archontophoenix spp. are notoriously difficult to transplant from field nurseries.

Follow the steps below when planting a palm:

  1. Dig the hole at least 6 inches larger in diameter than the root ball to ensure that the backfill soil will be in contact with the entire root ball. The hole should be deep enough so that the top of the root ball of a field-grown palm is even with the surface of the ground. For container-grown palms, make sure that the base of the stem (if visible) is about an inch below the surface of the soil.

  2. Amending the backfill soil is not recommended.

  3. Gently position the palm so that it is upright, and fill around the root ball with soil. Water thoroughly to remove any air pockets.

  4. Form a basin with soil around the perimeter of the root ball to retain water during irrigation.

  5. Support large trees with braces to maintain stability during the first 6 to 8 months. Nails should not be driven directly into palm trunks.

  6. Water daily for the first few weeks and frequently thereafter until the palms are well established.

For additional information on planting palms see EDIS publication EP001—Transplanting Palms.

Tables

Table 1. 

Ornamental Palms for South Florida

Scientific Name

Common Names

Leaf Type

Crownshaft?

Typical Size (H x W)

Stem Thickness

Growth Habit

Salt Spray Tolerance

Irritating Fruits?

Comments

Acoelorrhaphe wrightii*

Paurotis palm, Everglades palm

Fan

No

20 x 20 ft

Slender

Clumping

Moderate

No

Grows poorly on alkaline soils. Spiny petioles.

Adonidia merrillii

Christmas palm, Manila palm

Feather

Yes

20 x 6 ft

Slender

Single-stem

Moderate

No

Well-adapted to south Florida soils. Highly susceptible to lethal yellowing disease.

Aiphanes aculeata

Ruffle palm

Feather

No

20 x 8 ft

Slender

Single-stem

Low

No

Attractive small, but vicious palm. Spiny trunk and leaves.

Allagoptera arenaria

Seashore palm

Feather

No

6 x 8 ft

Slender

Clumping

High

No

Silvery foliage; excellent seaside palm. No major problems.

Archontophoenix alexandrae

Alexandra palm; King palm

Feather

Yes

40 x 15 ft

Medium

Single-stem

Low

Yes

Rigid leaflets often held in vertical plane. Difficult to transplant from a field nursery.

Archontophoenix cunninghamiana

Picabeen palm

Feather

Yes

30 x 12 ft

Medium

Single-stem

Low

Yes

Similar to A. alexandrae, but leaflets more lax. No major problems.

Areca catechu

Betelnut palm

Feather

Yes

30 x 10 ft

Slender

Single-stem

Low

No

Ringed green trunk. Cold-sensitive.

Areca vestiaria

Orange crownshaft palm

Feather

Yes

12 x 8 ft

Slender

Single-stem

Low

No

Striking orange-red crownshaft. Cold-sensitive.

Arenga engleri

Dwarf sugar palm

Feather

No

10 x 15 ft

Slender

Clumping

Low

Yes

Allow plenty of room to spread. Individual stems die after fruiting.

Arenga pinnata

Sugar palm

Feather

No

40 x 25 ft

Medium

Single-stem

Moderate

Yes

Stiff black fibers around trunk. Short-lived; dies after fruiting.

Attalea spp.

American oil palms

Feather

No

60 x 35 ft

Medium-thick

Single-stem

Moderate

No

Huge palms with upright form. No major problems.

Bismarckia nobilis

Bismarck palm

Fan

No

40 x 18 ft

Thick

Single-stem

Moderate

No

Bold-textured blue-green or light green foliage. Fares poorly in windstorms; difficult to transplant from field nursery.

Butia capitata

Pindo palm; jelly palm

Feather

No

20 x 12 ft

Medium

Single-stem

Moderate

No

Edible fruits; gray-green foliage. Grows better in north Florida.

Carpentaria acuminata

Carpentaria palm

Feather

Yes

50 x 10 ft

Medium

Single-stem

Low

Yes

Attractive red fruits. Leaves easily tattered by wind.

Caryota mitis

Clustering fishtail palm

Feather

No

20 x 12 ft

Medium

Clumping

Low

Yes

Unusual twice compound leaves. Short-lived--entire palm dies after fruiting.

Caryota urens

Toddy fishtail palm

Feather

No

40 x 18 ft

Medium

Single-stem

Low

Yes

Attractive twice compound leaves; C. maxima and C. no are similar. Short-lived; dies after fruiting

Chamaedorea cataractarum

Cat palm

Feather

No

8 x 8 ft

Very Slender

Clumping

Low

Yes

Grows best in shade. No major problems.

Chamaedorea elegans

Parlor palm

Feather

No

5 x 2.5 ft

Very Slender

Single-stem

Low

Yes

Requires shade. No major problems.

Chamaedorea metallica

Miniature fishtail palm

Feather

No

4 x 2 ft

Very Slender

Single-stem

Low

Yes

Blue-green 2-lobed leaves. Bright orange flower stalks.

Chamaedorea erumpens/C. seifrizii

Bamboo palm/reed palm

Feather

No

8 x 6 ft

Very Slender

Clumping

Low

Yes

Does best in shade. No major problems.

Chamaerops humilis

European fan palm

Fan

No

15 x 20 ft

Slender

Clumping

Moderate

No

Leaves may be blue-green to light green. Petioles are spiny.

Chambeyronia macrocarpa

Red feather palm

Feather

Yes

25 x 12 ft

Medium

Single-stem

Low

No

New leaves of some specimens have reddish color.

Coccothrinax crinita

Old man palm

Fan

No

15 x 8 ft

Medium

Single-stem

Low

No

Trunk is covered with stiff curly hairs.

Coccothrinax spp.*

Silver palms

Fan

No

15-25 x 6 ft

Slender

Single-stem

High

No

Undersides of leaves are silver colored.

Cocos nucifera

Coconut palm

Feather

No

40-60 x 20-25 ft

Medium-thick

Single-stem

High

No

Malayan dwarf has more slender straight trunk; all cultivars susceptible to lethal yellowing.

Copernicia alba

Caranday palm

Fan

No

30 x 10 ft

Medium

Single-stem

Moderate

No

Light green foliage. Petioles are spiny.

Copernicia baileyana

Bailey palm

Fan

No

40 x 15 ft

Thick

Single-stem

Moderate

No

Massive trunk; very majestic; best for large properties. Petioles are spiny.

Copernicia hospita

Hospita palm

Fan

No

20 x 12 ft

Medium

Single-stem

Moderate

No

Blue-green foliage. Petioles are spiny.

Copernicia macroglossa

Cuban petticoat palm

Fan

No

15 x 10 ft

Slender

Single-stem

Moderate

No

Retains a skirt of old leaves; extremely short petioles.

Copernicia prunifera

Carnauba wax palm

Fan

No

35 x 12 ft

Medium

Single-stem

Moderate

No

Source of carnauba wax. Petioles are spiny.

Dictyosperma album

Princess palm; hurricane palm

Feather

No

20 ft

Medium

Single-stem

Moderate

Yes

Var. rubrum has reddish foliage when young. Susceptible to lethal yellowing.

Dypsis cabadae

Cabada palm

Feather

Yes

30 x 15 ft

Slender

Clumping

Moderate

No

Attractive ringed green trunks.

Dypsis decaryi

Triangle palm

Feather

Yes

25 x 15 ft

Medium

Single-stem

Low

No

Blue-green leaves radiate out from trunk in three planes. Highly susceptible to potassium deficiency

Dypsis leptocheilos

Teddy bear palm

Feather

Yes

30 x 15 ft

Medium

Single-stem

Low

No

Crownshaft is covered with rusty fuzz.

Dypsis lutescens

Areca palm; butterfly palm

Feather

Yes

30 x 20 ft

Slender

Clumping

Moderate

No

Very high nutrient requirements; orange petioles and leaf scorch caused by nitrogen and potassium deficiencies.

Elaeis guineensis

African oil palm

Feather

No

50 x 25 ft

Medium

Single-stem

Moderate

No

Allow space for large canopy; very high nutritional requirements. Petioles are spiny.

Heterospathe elata

Sagisi palm

Feather

No

45 x 12 ft

Slender

Single-stem

Low

No

Slow growing until trunk forms.

Howea forsteriana

Kentia palm

Feather

No

20 12 ft

Medium

Single-stem

Moderate

No

Does best in shade. Tends to be short-lived in Florida.

Hyophorbe lagenicaulis

Bottle palm

Feather

Yes

12 x 6 ft

Thick

Single-stem

High

Yes

Bulbous trunk when young; holds few leaves.

Hyophorbe verschafeltii

Spindle palm

Feather

Yes

15 x 8 ft

Medium

Single-stem

High

Yes

Similar to H. lagenicaulis but narrower trunk. Particularly susceptible to potassium deficiency.

Hyphaene spp

Gingerbread palms

Fan

No

30 x 30 ft

Medium

Clumping/branching

High

No

Broad spreading and even branching clumps of stems. Petioles are spiny.

Latania spp

Latan palms

Fan

No

20 x 12 ft

Medium

Single-stem

Moderate

No

Blue-green foliage; leaves of juvenile L. lontaroides reddish. Leaf skeletonizer insects often a problem.

Leucothrinax and Thrinax spp.

Thatch palms

Fan

No

20 x 6 ft

Slender

Single-stem

High

No

Excellent small palms.

Licuala grandis

Licuala palm

Fan

No

10 x 6 ft

Slender

Single-stem

Low

No

Has round leaves with spiny petioles; does best in shade.

Licuala spinosa

Spiny licuala palm

Fan

No

10 x 8 ft

Slender

Clumping

Low

No

Leaves are shaped like spokes of a wheel. Has spiny petioles.

Livistona australis

Australian fan palm

Fan

No

45 x 12 ft

Medium

Single-stem

Moderate

No

Attractive weeping leaflet tips. Especially susceptible to potassium deficiency.

Livistona chinensis

Chinese fan palm

Fan

No

30 x 16 ft

Medium

Single-stem

Moderate

No

Slow growing until trunk forms. Has bluish-green fruit.

Livistona decora

Ribbon fan palm

Fan

No

30 x 15 ft

Medium

Single-stem

Moderate

No

Deeply divided weeping leaves.

Livistona rotundifolia

Footstool palm

Fan

No

40 ft

Medium

Single-stem

Low

No

Has round leaves with spiny petioles;

Livistona saribus

Taraw palm

Fan

No

40 x 16 ft

Medium

Single-stem

Moderate

No

Deeply divided weeping leaves.

Phoenix canariensis

Canary Island date palm

Feather

No

40 x 22 ft

Thick

Single-stem

Moderate

No

Intolerant of wet sites. Spiny petioles. Susceptible to Texas Phoenix palm decline, fusarium wilt, palm weevils, and potassium and magnesium deficiencies.

Phoenix dactylifera

Date palm

Feather

No

60 x 25 ft

Medium

Clumping/single stem

High

No

Has blue-green leaves with spiny petioles. Susceptible to lethal yellowing and Texas Phoenix palm decline.

Phoenix reclinata

Senegal date palm

Feather

No

40 x 30 ft

Medium

Clumping

Moderate

No

Requires very large area. The palm is weedy and has spiny petioles.

Phoenix roebelenii

Pygmy date palm

Feather

No

12 x 7 ft

Slender

Single-stem

Moderate

No

Knobby trunks are often crooked. Petioles are spiny.

Phoenix rupicola

Cliff date

Feather

No

25 x 20 ft

Medium

Single-stem

Moderate

No

Smaller than P. dactylifera. Has spiny petioles.

Phoenix sylvestris

Wild date palm

Feather

No

40 x 20 ft

Medium

Single-stem

Moderate

No

Gray-green leaves with spiny petioles; smaller than P. dactylifera. Susceptible to lethal yellowing and Texas Phoenix palm decline.

Pinanga coronata

Ivory cane palm

Feather

Yes

10 x 8 ft

Very slender

Clumping

Low

Yes

Does best in protected shady site.

Pseudophoenix sargentii*

Buccaneer palm

Feather

No

10 x 7 ft

Medium

Single-stem

High

Yes

Holds only a few leaves which are blue-green. Unknown disease of leaf bases slowly kills these palms.

Ptychosperma elegans

Solitaire palm

Feather

Yes

25 x 8 ft

Slender

Single-stem

Low

No

Often grown as multiples in a container. Can be weedy.

Ptychosperma macarthurii

Macarthur palm

Feather

Yes

30 x 15 ft

Slender

Clumping

Low

Yes

Can be weedy.

Ravenea rivularis

Majesty palm

Feather

No

30 x 10 ft

Medium

Single-stem

Moderate

No

Stays short for a long time; Light green foliage. Weevils can be a problem.

Rhapidophyllum hystrix*

Needle palm

Fan

No

6 x 6 ft

Very Slender

Clumping

Moderate

No

Grows best in shade. Trunks are spiny.

Rhapis excelsa

Lady palm

Fan

No

8 x 8 ft

Very Slender

Clumping

Moderate

No

Grows best in shade. Spreads quickly by underground rhizomes.

Roystonea spp.*

Royal palms

Feather

Yes

70 x 20 ft

Thick

Single-stem

Moderate

Yes

Best for large properties. Royal palm bug causes damage in late winter and spring.

Sabal causiarum

Puerto Rican hat palm

Fan

No

45 x 15 ft

Very Thick

Single-stem

Moderate

No

Massive trunk; best for large properties.

Sabal mauritiiformis

 

Fan

No

40 x 10 ft

Medium

Single-stem

Moderate

No

Faster growing than S. palmetto. Leaves easily tattered by wind.

Sabal minor*

Dwarf palmetto; blue palmetto

Fan

No

6-8 x 8 ft

None

Single-stem

Moderate

No

Trunkless palm can be used like a shrub.

Sabal palmetto*

Cabbage palm; sabal palm

Fan

No

50 x 10 ft

Medium

Single-stem

High

No

Florida state tree. Susceptible to Texas Phoenix palm decline.

Serenoa repens*

Saw palmetto

Fan

No

6 x 8 ft

Slender

Clumping

High

No

Silver and green leaved forms exist; develops sprawling prostrate trunks. Petioles are spiny.

Syagrus coronata

 

Feather

No

30 x 12 ft

Medium

Single-stem

Moderate

No

Attractive spiral pattern of old leaf bases. Slow growing.

Syagrus romanzoffiana

Queen palm

Feather

No

50 x 18 ft

Medium

Single-stem

Moderate

No

Poorly adapted to alkaline soils. Highly susceptible to potassium, manganese, and boron deficiencies and Fusarium wilt.

Syagrus schizophylla

Arikury palm

Feather

No

12 x 6 ft

Medium

Single-stem

Moderate

No

Small palm with upright form and spiny petioles. Particularly susceptible to potassium deficiency.

Thrinax spp.*

Thatch palms

Fan

No

20 x 6 ft

Slender

Single-stem

High

No

Excellent small palms.

Veitchia spp

 

Feather

Yes

60 x 12 ft

Medium

Single-stem

Moderate

No

Some species can get too tall for residential properties.

Washingtonia robusta

Mexican fan palm

Fan

No

80 x 8 ft

Medium

Single-stem

Moderate

No

Too tall for residential properties. Susceptible to fusarium wilt.

Wodyetia bifurcata

Foxtail palm

Feather

Yes

40 x 12 ft

Medium

Single-stem

Moderate

No

Poorly adapted to alkaline soils. Highly susceptible to potassium and manganese deficiencies.

Zombia antillarum

Zombie palm

Fan

No

12 x 10 ft

Slender

Clumping

High

No

Attractive spirally-arranged pattern of spines on trunk.

*Indicates native to Florida

Footnotes

1.

This document is ENH-21 (which supersedes OH-21), one of a series of the Department of Environmental Horticulture, UF/IFAS Extention. First published May, 1988. Revised October 2013.

Visit the EDIS website at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu.

2.

Timothy K. Broschat, professor of tropical ornamental horticulture, Fort Lauderdale Research and Education Center and Department of Environmental Horticulture, and Robert J. Black, professor emeritus, Extension consumer horticulturist, Department of Environmental Horticulture, UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville, FL 32611.


The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county's UF/IFAS Extension office.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.