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Palm Tree vs Palmetto Tree: What’s the Difference?

palm tree vs palmetto tree

The palmetto tree and the palm tree both belong to the same family. However, they are very different. While most palmettos grow in the Western United States, only a few palm trees are native to America. If you are interested in learning more about the differences between these two trees, keep reading while we look at the size, foliage, flowers, fruit, and more to help you be better informed.


Overview of the Palm Tree

palm trees
Image Credit: Pixabay

Size

The palm tree is the larger of the two, with many species growing 80 feet tall or more. These trees do not produce trunks like ordinary trees, and they have no bark. They remain short for the first few years while their stems grow underground. With the underground stem established, the palm tree will begin to send its stem upward, increasing its height every year.

Foliage

Palm trees produce large fronds that will have an alternating pattern. It will have long leaves that can be 36 inches with parallel veins. Many of the fronds have a fan shape with shiny leaves.

Flowers

Different species of palm trees produce various kinds of flowers. The desert palm, royal palm, and queen palm all have white flowers pleasing to the eye and soft to the touch. Royal palm trees have yellow flowers that are extremely aromatic.

Queen Palms
Image Credit: NatureFotoBug, Shutterstock

Fruit

Palm trees produce many types of fruit, including coconut and dates. Queen palm trees in the United States grow bright orange dates mostly used for ornamentation purposes.

Pros
  • Tall trees
  • Several varieties
  • Tasty fruit
Cons
  • It might be too large
  • Won’t grow much in the Northern US and above
  • Take a long time to grow

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


Overview of the Palmetto tree

Row of Palmetto trees
Image Credit: kuch, Shutterstock

Size

The palmetto tree is typically much smaller than the palm tree and usually grows to about 30 feet tall. It’s similar to the palm tree in that it does not have a trunk or bark but instead uses an underground stem. Once the palmetto tree establishes the stem, it will start to grow horizontally close to the ground. Most grow no more than 12 feet tall.

Foliage

Palmetto trees have thick flat leaves that, like the palm tree, can also be about 36 inches long. These stiff leaves usually have a star-shaped pattern that gives these trees their name.

Flowers

Palmetto flowers are similar to palm trees and are dependent on the variety. Saw Palmettos produce long sticks with yellowish-white flowers, and the dwarf palmetto creates shorter sticks that extend just beyond the tip of the foliage.

Rare Palmetto during winter
Image Credit: Dawn Marie Gallapis, Shutterstock

Fruit

Palmettos produce a small berry that’s usually less than an inch long. Birds and local wildlife often consume this small fruit, and it can be a great way to bring them onto your property.

Pros
  • Inexpensive
  • Stays close to the ground
  • You can plant it further north
Cons
  • You usually require several of them
  • Only one type of fruit; not tasty

Which One Is Right for Me?

Both palm trees and palmettos can make excellent additions to your landscape. Palm trees can be quite tall, so you need to be careful about placing them too close to your home, and only a few varieties can handle the colder temperatures of the northern United States. While the palmetto is also a warm-weather plant, you can find them much farther north than palm trees, so they are a better choice for people in the northern states. These plants are much shorter, and you will need more of them, but they are quite hardy and can live in many soil types.

Carpentaria Palm
Image Credit: FiwFuse, Shutterstock

When To Use Each Kind

Palm trees are a perfect choice if you need to add shade to your yard or would like to start producing fruit. Palm trees also leave a larger footprint that you can see from a considerable distance. Palmetto trees are a great choice when you need something closer to the ground. These are the perfect accent to any garden, and they are easier to remove if you change your mind later.

When to Buy A Palm Tree
  • When you need shade
  • If you like coconuts or dates
  • When you need more variety
When to Buy A Palmetto Tree
  • When you only require a small, bushy plant
  • When you want to provide shade for other plants

You might also be interested in: Sequoia Tree vs. Redwood: What’s the Difference? (With Pictures)


Conclusion

We recommend checking with your local garden center to see what types of palm trees and palmettos will grow in your area. Once you have your selection, we recommend choosing a variety to provide color and excitement to your landscape.


Featured Image Credit: L-R: Palm Tree (Image Credit: Pixabay), Palmetto Tree (Image Credit: ehrlif, Shutterstock)

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