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Palm Tree vs Coconut Tree: What’s the Difference? (with Pictures)

palm vs coconut tree

palm vs coconut tree

A palm tree is one of the most easily recognized trees in the world. Even people who have spent most of their lives in deep winter weather know one when they see it. It’s such an iconic tree that always makes an appearance in our favorite movies, TV shows, and other media.

In fact, if there’s a beach scene anywhere, you can guarantee you’ll see at least one palm tree.

But what about coconut trees? Are they the same thing?

While it’s true that coconut trees and palm trees are extremely similar, there are some distinct differences. And that’s because technically all coconut trees are palms, but not all palm trees have coconuts.

Let’s go over some of the biggest indicators between palm and coconut trees that will help you tell them apart.

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How To Recognize a Palm Tree?

Palm Tree
Image Credit: Kimerlymn, Wikimedia Commons

The term “palm tree” is actually an umbrella for any type of tree that falls under the Palmaceae flora class. This type of class alone has over 3,000 species and more than 230 families that are found worldwide.

In the United States, they are mostly found in areas such as California and Florida. That’s because palm trees tend to thrive in tropical or subtropical climates.

Ancient palm tree remains have even been found in the frigid regions of Antarctica! And it’s theorized that the polar continent was once covered with palms before the dramatic climate change that froze the region.

Palm trees can thrive either planted on the ground or in a pot. Smaller types of palm trees can easily be potted and are usually found in people’s backyard or rooftop gardens. Even though these trees have remarkably hard trunks, they are internally the same as other species of trees and can produce fruits and flowers.

Palm Tree Leaves

All palm trees can be easily identified by their leaves. Their leaves are called fronds and are shaped like a fan. Their structure is made of sections that grow outward from their main branch. The length of a palm tree leaf can vary depending on its type of species. While some palms have short, spiky fronds, other palm fronds can grow as long as 10 feet.

Palm Tree Trunks

Palm tree trunks also vary from species to species. Some palm trees have thick, squat trunks. Others have very thin, tall, and scaly trunks. You can also find thin, reedy trees that have small heads with fronds on top.

Palm Tree Height

Like with the rest of their characteristics, palm trees differ wildly in height. Some varieties grow up to 197 feet tall!

Normally, you’ll find these extremely tall palm trees out in nature near beaches or in jungles since they are free to grow as tall as they can.

Palm trees that are planted near buildings or establishments are kept maintained so they don’t grow as tall as they can be difficult to manage. In some parts of the United States, it is common to use palm trees for landscaping.

Pros
  • Very sturdy
  • Some are fruit-bearing
Cons
  • Offers little shade
  • Difficult to dispose of large droppings

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How to Recognize a Coconut Tree?

Coconut trees

The coconut tree — scientifically named Cocos nucifera — is also often called the coconut palm. This particular palm has a long, leaning trunk that has a smooth texture. And when left to their own devices can grow to be between 80-100 feet tall.

They are widely recognized by their pinnate leaves, yellow flowers, and signature fruit.

Coconut Tree Fruit

The most defining feature of a coconut tree is its fruit. Coconut trees begin to bear fruit once they reach 4-5 years old. These giant nut-looking fruits require an additional 6 months to a year before reaching their full maturity. And a single coconut tree can produce about 25 coconuts each year.

However, the fruit doesn’t have to be fully mature to harvest. The young coconut is often sweeter and softer than fully matured fruits.

Coconut Tree Trunk

Coconut tree trunks have a much lighter color compared to other types of palm trees. They also have a smoother texture and are seldom scaly.

Their trunks can grow to be extremely tall; however, they rarely ever grow completely vertical. Often, you’ll find coconut trees that are growing bent or curled. And some varieties even grow in a spiral shape! Coconut trees used for landscaping, however, are maintained to keep them straighter.

In many countries — particularly parts of Asia — the coconut tree trunk is used as lumber wood in construction for homes and farming-related buildings.

Coconut Tree Roots

As the coconut tree grows taller in height, its roots also extend deeper into the ground. This function helps them live up to a century in the wild. And it’s because of these deep roots, it can withstand even the most extreme weather conditions including monsoons and typhoons.

For this reason, coconut trees are often called the “three-generation-tree” as it can bear fruits to the person who planted them, their children, and future grandchildren.

Pros
  • Has many uses
  • Fruit-bearing
Cons
  • Trees produce less as they age

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The Differences Between a Palm Tree and a Coconut Tree?

It’s hard to say that there are definitive differences between palm trees and coconut trees. And that’s because technically a coconut tree is a palm. They both have the same leaves, and both produce fruits. But the distinguishing factors are the trunks and fruits.

As mentioned above, palm trees typically have textured and scaly trunks. But the coconut tree rarely has scales and is often lighter in color.

And if you’re ever confused between the two, just check out what fruit the tree is bearing! A coconut tree will produce hard coconuts. Other palms can produce smaller fruits such as dates.

However, both palm tree and coconut tree fruits will fall on their own once they reach maturity. So, make sure to watch your head whenever you walk underneath them!

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