The palm stands alone among America’s trees for several reasons. It is unique both for its singular appearance and for being more closely related to grasses than to the conifer and broadleaf plants commonly known as trees. The ability to survive even hurricane-force winds also makes some members of the palm family stand out among trees in the United States.
The Palm’s Place in History
From the earliest history of American exploration, this hardy evergreen has been a symbol of America’s coastal states. Today as in centuries past, the palm remains a welcome sight and an important part of our nation’s diverse forest. It has also become a familiar sight in many Southern cities, where the striking form and great adaptability of trees like the cabbage palmetto have made it a popular street tree.
Some Common Species
The cabbage palmetto (Sabal palmetto) is a slender tree that matures without growth rings, never reaching a great diameter but attaining heights of 70 feet or more in the wild. A more average height for cabbage palmettos as street trees is 40 to 50 feet. A dense, rounded crown, often 10 to 15 feet across, sits atop the slender palmetto. This crown is made up of long, curved leaves that can extend eight feet from the trunk on all sides, giving the palmetto value as a shade tree. Adding to its beauty and usefulness, the palmetto bears four-to-six-foot long, creamy white summer flower stalks that give way to wildlife-sustaining fruit. (Grows in hardiness zone 8.)
Bush palmetto (Sabal minor) grows naturally in the moist lowlands of America’s Gulf Coast. This hardy little tree often has no above-ground trunk, although some bear their leaves atop a trunk that may reach six feet tall. The bush palmetto has a memorable form, as its old leaves fold at the base and hang down like closed umbrellas. (Grows in hardiness zone 8.)