Last Updated on August 22, 2022 by Griselda M.
Palms are a common houseplant grown across America; learning the nitty-gritty of houseplant palm identification will help you choose the right one.
There are 2600 species of palm approximately. They come in various shapes and sizes.
The reason we keep them is that they provide us with a variety of benefits, both aesthetic and practical. These benefits include beauty, utility, fragrance, and medicine.
In this article, we will discuss houseplant palm identification. Palm identification is actually something that requires a good understanding of botany, hence we will just skim the surface and look at the few most likely candidates that you could buy in a nursery.
Houseplant Palm Identification
There are over 2600 different species of palms. However, only about 100 of them can be readily found in the United States. Typically in plant identification, we would key a plant out – so you start by identifying the fact that you have a palm, and then from here, you use a dichotomous key to narrow your identification further. I see there is one key in the Google play store. To bring yourself up to speed with the botanical terms used in palm identification, visit this page.
If you want to use a simple online key you can try this one. You will see how the key works. First, you start by looking at stem features. Are there single stems, or multiple stems? Then you look at the features on the stem. From here you migrate to the leaf type and shape, and then to the flowers and fruit. This process narrows the identification down, and if you are lucky, you will get right to the species level, and if you are a bit less lucky, the genus level.
Here is a summary of features of a few different common palms.
This is one of those terrible common names as it really just refers to a palm tree that has a fan shaped leaf. There are in fact a lot of palms that fit this description. In this regard, if a nursery refers to a “Fan Palm” it is ideal to try and get a slightly closer identification of what it is that you are buying!
This can work in your favor, because if you get a rare fan palm, then you may find the people at the nursery sell it for a discount not realising how special it is!
Common fan palms include the European fan palm (discussed later), the Chinese fan palm, the Mexican fan palm and the Indian Ocean fan palm.
These small palm trees belong to the genus Rhapus. The ten or so species in this genus all have a following in the gardening trade due to their pretty, small growth pattern. The most commonly cultivated is probably Rhapus excelsa.
Typically these palms do not get very big and they are quite pleasantly adapted to approximately the same conditions we tend to enjoy in our houses temperature and humidity wise. Unlike many other common palm species, these do not require a lot of spraying of the leaves for humidity. They are shade tolerant, disease resistant and easy to grow requiring weekly watering and a little feeding.
I have enjoyed growing these over the years, and have had a few that did really well. Sometimes they do seem to get scale insects, and these can be controlled generally by using neem oil.
This palm, Syagrus romanzoffiana, is relatively cold tolerant for a palm, being able to tolerate down to about 23°F. It is originally from South America but is now globally distributed. It is a fast growing, robust palm that is becoming a favourite amongst landscapers due to the speed with which the plant can fill a space.
For indoor growing, it is useful for large plantings in places such as shopping malls. It can be grown as a potted plant, but is susceptible to various fungal problems if the conditions are not right.
This is a pretty unusual and unique plant. They come from the Seychelles islands. The species is Verschaffeltia splendida. These palm trees have a characteristic growth pattern where support roots grow like stilts out of the stem of the palm. This is the only species in the genus, making it even more unusual.
Cabbage palmetto palm
The cabbage palmetto palm (Sabal palmetto) has a costapalmate fan consisting of numerous leaflets. These palms are common in the coastal USA and are salt tolerant.
European Fan Palm
The European Fan Palm (Chamaerops humilis) is a solitary palm that grows in tropical and subtropical areas. Its stems grow straight up from the ground. The leaves are broad and have rounded edges. The leaf margins are serrated. This palm is usually smaller than 10 feet tall.
Coconut palms (Cocos nucifera) are large trees with long, slender trunks and large, broad leaves. Cocos palm is native to tropical and subtropical regions. It can grow up to 150 feet tall. The problem with coconut palms is that they are beautiful – and can carry a ton of coconuts in the treetops when mature.
If these fall on your head they tend to have a terminal result on your life. As a result, they make poor garden specimens unless you deliberately remove the fruit to ensure safety.
Naturally there are a lot of other types of palms that you may find in a nursery. All I really wanted to do here was highlight a few fun species that you can explore.
In Summary – Houseplant Palm Identification
There are 2600 different kinds of palms. The palms are found in tropical and subtropical regions around the world.
We have only looked at common palm house plants in our houseplant palm identification to help us get ideas on what palm trees to grow. There are of course many other palm types to choose from. Have fun and go wild!
Read more about A Guide On Flowering Houseplant Identification.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do I identify my indoor palm tree?
Typically the best way to identify a palm tree is to use a key. In the bulk of this article we link to a key that can help you key out your palm tree. A typical key starts with a specific feature - in the case of palms, the stem. Hence we get palms that have a single stem, and those that have multiple stems. Then we look at the structure of the stem, at the leaves, at the flowers and at the fruit. Normally if you follow a key like this you can identify a plant reasonably well.
Is there a free plant identifier?
Yes! The Plant Identification app available for iOS and Android devices is a great resource for identifying plants. It will also identify palm trees. There is actually a palm identification key in the Google Play store, and there is a link to a website with a palm identification key in the bulk of this article.
Can I use my smartphone camera to take a picture of my palm tree?
Yes. I assume you however asked this question because you wanted to take a picture of a palm tree and identify it. I have tried these sort of AI plant identifier programs and have not found any that work very well. They can sort of vaguely identify a lot of plants but they do make quite big mistakes when you move into the realm of more unusual plants.
How do I know which tree species it is?
By this question I assume you mean which palm tree species is it? In this case, you will need to go to the section in the article above where we discuss how to use a key to identify a palm tree. Go to the key and follow the logical questions and this should allow you to identify the palm tree.
Caroline is a gardener who loves to get down to the nitty–gritty of gardening. She proudly proclaims herself as a ‘dirt worshipper‘ and can often be found deep in the garden, covered in soil and singing to her plants. As a self–proclaimed ‘plant whisperer‘, Caroline believes that plants need love and attention just like any other living thing, and she loves to give them both. When she‘s not tending to her garden, you can often find her researching the latest gardening trends, or teaching others how to make their gardens thrive