Sunset Boulevard California and tropical beaches – these are a few classic places most people think of when palm trees are talked about. Palms are immediately recognized for their unique feather-like leaves and tall stems.
Yet these aren’t the only key features that describe a typical palm tree.
With over 2,500 palm tree species in the world, similarities can be found in each part of a palm tree. Generally, a palm tree has foliage, flowers, fruits, a stem, and roots.
A palm tree thrives in places with tropical and subtropical climates including forests, scrublands, and mountains, to name a few.
Palms are not only used for landscape design but they have been deemed highly beneficial for many reasons. Each part of a palm tree is important for palm growth and human and animal consumption.
From food to materials and goods, palm trees are one of the most useful plants on earth.
In this article, we tackle the main parts of a palm tree from top to bottom: foliage, flowers, fruits, stems, and roots. Learn about the important parts of palm trees and how they can be of use to people.
Table of Contents
The Structure of a Palm Tree
Starting from the top, the meristem of a palm tree produces leaves and fruits which are collectively called foliage. The foliage is also known as the palm tree frond, recognized as the crown.
A palm tree can only grow one new frond at a time.
It takes up to five years for fronds to grow, which eventually fall off on their own as they grow old. While some fronds fall off on their own, some may need pruning to remove the dead ones.
At the beginning of each growth in its unfolded stage, the frond is called a spear.
Once it unfolds, it grows to its final stage and forms different shapes according to its species.
Different fronds incorporate diverse shapes including a fan, feather, or a mix of both while having different textures such as shiny, ribbed, or spiked.
Moreover, they are usually V-shaped, either upright (induplicate) or inverted (reduplicate).
Interestingly, the leaves have a sort of waxy layer that prevents them from getting dehydrated. However, the leaves can turn yellow especially if the soil lacks essential nutrients or is infested.
Using palm tree fertilizer helps keep its color and shape.
Most palm trees bloom every year. Inflorescence or the process of flowering occurs in different parts of a palm tree, depending on the species.
For instance, some palm trees develop flowers within the axils (the angle between the stem and leaf), beneath the crown, or at the top of the crown.
A specific branch grows and carries numerous tiny flowers that are white, symmetrical, and star-shaped. The flowers usually have three sepals and three petals with six stamens where pollen is produced.
Moreover, they are generally monoicous or dioicous, which means they are either unisexual or bisexual.
If a flower is unisexual, only one sex is found – either male or female flowers. While for bisexual plants, both male and female flowers can be found in one plant.
The sexual structure of a palm tree varies with the species and season.
When a palm tree successfully fertilizes, it produces fruits or drupes, which can be multi or single-seeded. The seeds are protected with layers of protection called mesocarp, endocarp, and endosperm.
The fruits produced by some palm trees can be eaten while some are not edible and only used for propagation.
A palm tree’s stem is elongated and cylindrical and is either single-stemmed or clustered. The texture can be smooth, rough, spikey, or bumpy.
Moreover, the stem of a palm tree is classified as a monocot, meaning the width of the stem is constant and cannot increase.
A young palm stem can only increase in length once the width or radial growth has reached its maximum diameter. First, the seedling germinates horizontally until it reaches a certain diameter.
Thus, juvenile palm trees grow slower in height than mature ones.
When it meets the complete width of the stem, the width growth ceases and starts growing vertically while keeping its width size constant.
To maintain its growth, the trunk is composed of transport tissues including the xylem and phloem which are essential for the transportation of nutrients such as water, carbohydrates, and minerals.
The stem doesn’t have bark as it is only made of stacks of dried petiole and fibrous threads.
It’s also worth mentioning that palm trees have no lateral branches like other trees. If there is swelling at the bottom of the stem, it means new roots are growing or can be caused by other contributing factors.
The roots emerge from the root initiation zone, the area between the base of the stem and above the root zone. Most roots are found in the outer central cylinder which may look shallow and fibrous.
Unlike other trees, the majority of the roots grow horizontally and some vertically.
It grows about 36 inches from the top layer of the soil which is rich in nutrients and organic matter. Some roots act as an anchor for the stem while some absorb water and nutrients.
As the roots grow in length, they can develop aerial roots above the soil and at the base of the stem.
The diameter of the roots is fixed and does not increase as it grows longer. It can grow up to 15 meters horizontally from the tiny seedling stem.
As the roots grow, new vascular networks also emerge that contribute to the stem’s diameter growth and the leave’s vascular tissue.
Each part of a palm tree has several useful purposes, whether in its growing or older phases. From food essentials to home needs, a lot can be produced from a single palm tree using its flowers, leaves, and fruits.
For instance, helmets, caps, and shoes can be made from the sheath of unopened flowers of coconut palm trees.
Unopened flowers can also be tied and bent together to allow the sweet juice to drip. The dripped juice contains ascorbic acid and is made into syrup, dark sugar, beer, and vinegar.
When the flowers bloom, it becomes an excellent source of food for bees. As for the fruit itself such as coconut, it has husks that are used to make ropes, rugs, bags, mattresses, brushes, and brooms, to name a few.
Aside from the fibers of the husk, the coconut shell can be made into cups, scoops, bowls, and fuel.
The fruit is not only used to make materials but can also be consumed for food and used to treat certain illnesses.
When the leaves are dry and old, people can use them to make roofs for houses, hats, rugs, woven baskets, bags, and more. For animals like elephants, palm leaves are eaten as snacks.
The stem is commonly used for building purposes such as floors, sheds, rafts, and fences. Similar to unopened flowers, syrup or sap of sugar can be extracted from the stem.
Moreover, the stem has starch that can be ground and used as flour.
Because of the strength of the stem, it makes good pipes, tools, and coverings. Lastly, the roots are used for medicinal purposes including treatment for bronchitis and dysentery.
Additionally, it can be used to make coffee, mouthwash, and toothbrushes for cleaning.
Reproduction takes place either through sexual reproduction or clustered branches. Sexual reproduction happens through the pollination of male and female palm tree flowers.
The pollen from the male flower is transferred to the female flowers, which eventually forms a palm tree seed used for reproduction.
Since palm trees can’t pollinate on their own, they need help from insects or winds to pollinate and reproduce.
Once the seed is formed, it undergoes seed dispersal when the seeds are carried by animals away from the parent plant.
If a palm tree is multi-stemmed, the new clustered branches from the base of the stem become a new palm tree.
Palm trees live at an average of 70 to 80 years, and some can even live up to a hundred years. However, some palm trees only last for about 40 years, depending on the species, season, and external factors.
For instance, coconut palms live up to 90 years, whereas Areca palms only live up to 40 years.
To determine the age of a palm tree, one can assess the chemicals and radiocarbon dating.
Although palm trees can live for many decades, there are several reasons why palm trees can die earlier. Palm trees can die due to infection, infestation, and fertilizer burn.
Moreover, their growth can also be affected by lack of nutrition, weather, overwatering, and uprooting.
If a palm tree is experiencing these problems, it is easily detected with the conditions of its fronds as these are highly sensitive.
For palm trees that need to be killed naturally, it can be done by simply removing the crown from the stem, which is an important part of the vertical growth of palm trees.
Palms are monocots with one seed leaf, while hardwood trees are dicots with two. Interestingly, palms have three petals on the flower, whereas hardwood trees only have four or five.
Generally, palms have long fronds, dispersed vascular bundles, and adventitious roots.
Moreover, palms don’t have wood and bark since the stem only has fibers. As for hardwood trees, it’s common to find wide leaves, circular vascular bundles, and secondary growth.
Secondary growth is usually found in dicots, which is the thickening of stems and roots.
To remove dry and wilted fronds, use a pruning saw or knife. However, it is recommended to wait to take them off until spring as these fronds are still helpful for protection against extreme heat and cold.
After removing the dead fronds, the petiole or the stalk that attaches the fronds to the stem may also need to be removed, especially if it’s already loose.
It is an ongoing debate whether palm trees are classified as trees or not. Although palms fit the description of a typical tree having trunks and a crownshaft, they are also considered a type of grass.
For many reasons, palms don’t have secondary growth like trees – no rings, and bark.
If there’s one palm tree to avoid, it’s the sago palm. It is one of the most poisonous palm trees in the world and affects both people and animals.
All parts of the sago palm are poisonous – from seeds to trunk and leaves. Other poisonous palm trees to watch out for are the Australian arenga palm and fishtail palm, both of which cause severe rashes and burning sensations.