Palms have a presence all their own and are the perfect plants for poolside areas or in any tropical-themed garden.
The cabbage palm (Sabal palmetto) is a dwarf tree from to the coastal areas of the Southeast, where it often grows in the shade broad-canopied oaks and other native trees. The 'cabbage' is the characteristic ball of unfurled fronds at its center which looks - and is said to taste like - the common garden vegetable. It's an excellent choice where a small-shade-tolerant palm is needed. Plant it in sandy soil if possible and water it weekly until established.
Royal palms (Roystonea spp.) are one of the most majestic species, reaching 70 feet in height, and are often seen in streetscape plantings in southern Florida. They are known for their tidy leaf arrangement and the beautiful, smooth green section of their trunk that occupies the space immediately below the canopy. They are not picky about soil, but need full sun and ample irrigation - they can even tolerate occasional flooding.
The cane palm (Chrysalidocarpus lutescens) is commonly grown in pots as a house plant, where it may not develop a trunk, but makes an attractive upright clump of fronds. It can be grown outdoors in frost-free regions, where it develops multiple trunks that resemble thick canes of bamboo. It is quite drought tolerant, but needs excellent drainage, which is easily supplied by potting it up in a lightweight planting mix.
MacArthur Cluster Palm
The specimen pictured here shows what the MacArthur palm (Ptychosperma macarthuri) looks like when young, though when it matures it bears large drooping flower clusters that hang several feet below the canopy, making it quite a spectacular specimen. The flowers give way to colorful fruits and the tree continues to its flowering and fruiting cycle year round for a constant display of color. These palms are small, typically topping out at no more than 15 feet, and will take full sun, full shade or anything in between. It is a robust, drought tolerant species that can be grown in almost any type of soil and is often planted in groves for a dramatic effect.
Also known as pindo palm (Butia capitata), this species is short and stout with enormous fronds up to ten feet in length that curl down gracefully toward the ground. It is slow-growing and highly drought-tolerant. One of its most notable traits are the edible fruits, essentially a type of date, which can be made into jams and preserves.
The coco palm (Cocos nucifera) is perhaps the most widely recognized palm in the world, with its tall, thin trunk and tiny canopy that bobs in the breeze. It can reach 100 feet tall and is one of the best plants for landscaping seaside areas, as it is highly tolerant of salt spray and hurricane force winds. It prefers sandy soil and lots of moisture, but otherwise its needs are minimal as long as you live in a climate where temperatures do not drop below freezing.
Foxtail palm (Wodyetia bifurcata) is a very refined species in the world of coarse-textured palms. The fronds resemble a soft bushy foxtail and the color of the trunk is nearly white, unlike the dark brown of most palms. It's a fast-grower, tolerating sun or shade, and will survive drought but looks lush when given ample moisture. It is a moderate size tree and is adaptable to container culture, allowing it to be grown in cold climates.
Bottle palms (Hyophorbe lagenicaulis) are easy to identify by their namesake swollen stems which taper toward the canopy like a like an old-fashioned soda container. This heat-loving species grows slowly to a maximum of 20 feet, but is content to live its entire life in a large planter, as long as it is in a sunny location.
Silver Date Palm
This palm, also known as a sugar date palm (Phoenix sylvestris), is closely related to the species that produces the common edible date, and its fruit is also edible, though less commonly consumed. The foliage is dense, blue-green and neatly arranged in the rounded canopy. Native to arid scrub lands in India, it prefers loose, well-drained soils and tolerates significant drought, though it can look a bit shabby without a regular irrigation regime.
Silver Fan Palm Tree
This picture of the silver fan palm (Chamaerops humilis) is focused on the foliage, but it typically grows as a multi-trunked specimen, forming clumps up to about 20 feet tall with a width of 10 feet. The trunks have a characteristic arched shape and the foliage looks exactly as the name implies - a silver green fan-shaped frond. It is tolerant of extreme heat, drought, poor soil, high winds and is also one of the most cold-tolerant species of palm.
Silver Thatch Palm
The silver thatch palm (Coccothrinax proctorii) also sports silver-green fan-shaped fronds, which were traditionally used as a thatching material, though in this case it is the underside that has the silver color. It grows upright with a single trunk to about 20 feet and has a small, tight crown. The silver thatch palm is tough as nails and is known to grow on rocky outcrops in its native environment.
Canary Island Date Palm
A dramatic species, typically seen with a short trunk and huge crown of fronds that resemble a pom-pom, the Canary Island date palm (Phoenix canariensis) is one of the most popular palm trees for planting in the home landscape. It is very adaptable to soil type and watering regimes, but it does require the arduous annual maintenance of pruning off the massive fronds as they die.
The kentia palm (Howea forsteriana) is a small, slow-growing species is often used as a house plant. It is highly ornamental with soft green fronds and trunks like stout canes of bamboo. It is often planted next to entryways, giving it the alternative name, sentry palm. Its need for deep shade also make it a good fit as a house plant. Grow it in a large planter with a lightweight potting mix and let the soil dry between waterings to give it the best chance of success.
Chilian Wine Palm
The Chilian wine palm (Jubaea chilensis) is the world's most massive palm, reaching 100 feet in height with a trunk up to 5 feet in diameter. The monolithic trees grow very slowly, however, taking hundreds of years to reach this size. In their native Chile, they are cut for their sap which is turned into a product resembling maple syrup. They are drought tolerant and prefer dry, well-drained soil.
Whether you live in the subtropical areas of the country or in a colder climate, there is a palm to fit your landscaping needs - it just may need to be grown in a container and brought indoors for winter. The variety in form and texture is surprisingly diverse, especially if you venture into the specialty palm nurseries where some of the more unique specimens are found.