Palm trees

Palmea, the palm tree family

ARECACEA, otherwise known as Palmea, is a family consisting of more than 5000 species of plants. All belong to the monocot order, meaning that as seedlings the plants have a single leaf (cotyledon), as opposed to plants of the bicot order, which have two leaves as seedlings and are called dicotyledons. The monocot order is further divided into six families:
  • Coryphoideae - lobed leaves, solitary flowers
  • Calamoideae - includes climbing palms such as Rattans
  • Nypoideae - only one palm, Nypa fruticans which has a floating seed
  • Ceroxyloideae - beautiful spiral flowers
  • Arecoideae - the largest family, it contains more than 100 genera. These palms have pinnate (pointed) leaves and flowers arranged in groups of three
  • Phytelephotoideae - distinct monopodial flower clusters

Fan (palmate) palms and feather (pinnate) palms

Palm trees are to be found worldwide in two types. The most widespread, occurring throughout desert regions but also high in the Himalayan mountains is the fan palm. Their leaves usually consist of a long stem (petiole) coming off the trunk at the end of which is a more or less circular fan of leaves. A feather palm actually has many individual leaflets on the stem (petiole), which gives the leaf a feathery look.

Butyagrus, a feather palm, left and right, a fan palm, Trachycarpus wagnerianus

Palm names

The meaning of many names can be derived from their Latin/Greek or other language roots. Here are a few of the best known:
  • Trachycarpus means 'rough fruit'
  • Brahea doesn't mean anything, it's simply a name!
  • The meaning of Butia was originally 'spiny'.
  • Latin names ending in 'ii' or 'ensis' often mean that the plant originates from a particular area, for example 'Phoenix canariensis' originates from the Canary Islands.
To help you further we have compiled a table of palm names, prefixes and suffices - see Palm names.

The history of palm trees

Palm fossil from the Cretacious period

It was about 80 million years ago in the late Cretacious period that palms first appeared, according to fossil records. About 60 million years ago the first modern species made their appearance and were instantly widespread and succesful. Palms have always been immensely useful to mankind. Their first recorded practical use was the Date palm, producing dates which were used as an easily preservable source of nourishment during long desert journeys. And of course coconuts have been consumed since time immemorial. Rattan palms are used extensively for furniture making and basket making, and these days palms such as Elais are providing a reneweable source of oil for transport and heating. We drink palm wine, use palms as dyes and of course extract starch in the form of Sago. Such a beautiful and useful plant has of course acquired a huge significance for mankind; it is extensively referenced in the Bible and the Koran and the romans associated it with Victoria, the godess of victory.


Hardy palm trees for cold climates

Trachycarpus field
Our Trachycarpus plants maturing in a nursery in the far east
palm trees in cold countries
Mypalmshop palms in Europe
Palms are to naturally be found world-wide. We associate them with pristine sandy beaches but they are also to be found growing in cold regions such as the high Himalayas! In fact, we actually source our palms from cold regions - they grow slowly and develop strong trunks and root systems for the best possible cold-resistance!

We have satisfied customers with hardy palms such as the Windmill palm,  Trachycarpus wagnerianus, the Chusan palm  Trachycarpus fortunei and the beautiful Kalamuni palm, Trachycarpus takil throughout Europe and as far north as Norway and Finland and as far east as Bulgaria and the Ukraine! 

Hardy palm trees in European tropical gardens

Winter hardy palms survive our winters easilyHardy Trachycarpus wagnerianus resplendent in mid-winter In the last 100 years or so, the palm has become an increasingly common feature of European gardens. This is due to two reasons; interest has recently been fanned by an awareness that global warming is allowing us to grow more in our northern gardens, and polularity is growing as we become aware of the fact that some tropical plants originate from areas even colder than our own! For example, the hardiest palms such as Trachycarpus wagnerianus, Trachycarpus takil and Trachycarpus fortunei originate from the high Himalayas.

Palms and exotics at home make us think of those summery days on holiday in exotic places, but a frost rimmed palm on a winters moring is also a beautiful sight in its own right! So these days we are introducing spectacular ranges of grasses, bamboos, and agaves along with palms to complement our northern planting. And there are many (such as myself) with 100% tropical gardens with no indigenous plants! So we discover that some plants exist outside with little to no help, some with a little protection and others may even need to live indoors for part or all of the year. Our site helps you decide what's what with a full hardiness and usage guide.

We invite you to join those who indulge in hardy tropical plant and create your own holiday oasis at home!

© Gardenpalms 2012