Growth habits of palms



Growth habits of palms
Growth habits of palms
Each species of palm can be put into one of four different growth habits, which are tree, shrub,
groundcover, or vine. These four terms are used throughout the website to describe the “habit” of a
palm in their description.
Palm Trees
Palms that would be considered trees have solitary stems. The
largest can grow 100 feet in cultivation and have leaf crowns that
spread 25 foot or larger. Stem diameter can be up to 5 feet.
Other species grow only to 6 feet tall with a 3 or 4 foot spread and
a stem diameter of perhaps an
inch. While the larger palm trees,
such as Cocos nucifera, Roystonea
regia, and Clinostigma samoense
can provide canopy and shade, the
small ones, like Chamaedorea
ernesti-augustii, Chamaedorea
oblongata, and Licuala lauterbachii
tend to be more understory palms
that provide intimate ornamental
appeal. One genus, Hyphaene,
features palms that are freely
branching and can eventually
create canopies up to 80 feet
Clinostigma samoense is a
beautiful tree
Palm Shrubs
Shrubby palms would be those
that tend to clump. These
clustering species can range from just a few feet tall to 30 feet
or larger. Some create very tight clumps that cannot be seen
through, while others are more open. Some make excellent
screening plants or hedges such as Dypsis lutescens,
A grouping of Chamaedorea elegans are
dainty palm trees
cataractarum, and
Cyrtostachys renda. Others make excellent focal points in the
landscape such as Areca triandra, Calyptrocalyx polyphyllus,
Arenga engleri and Trithrinax campestris.
Copernicia fallaensis
palm tree
A Chamaedorea cataractarum
palm shrub
Groundcover Palms
Groundcover palms are those that grow quite small, up to 4 feet
or so maximum. They can be either solitary or clustering and
include species such as Chamaedorea metallica, Chamaedorea
adscendens, and Licuala mattanensis var. paucisecta. Multiple
plants can be used to create mass planting under other palms or
woody plants. Palms that work as groundcover plants are all
shade lovers so cannot be grown out is full sun. A single small
specimen properly placed can also be a surprising little focal
point when come upon by the viewer.
Palm Vines
There are over 300 species of Calamus as well as the genera
Daemonorhops, Desmoncus, Korthalsia and a few others that
are vining palms.
Virtually all are spiny and
Licuala mattanensis var. paucisecta makes
they can be either
an excellent groundcover
solitary stemmed or
clustering. The tallest grow to 300 feet up through the tree
canopy. Some are very ornamental and can create a
conversation piece in
a landscape. Many of
these palms have a
long whip-like
projection that
protrudes from the
end of their leaves
called a cirrus. This is
actually a modified
leaflet armed with
Daemonorops jenkinsiana is a large
backward hooks or
clustering vine or rattan palm
spines that assist the
palm in grabbing on to tree trunks and other plants so it
The leaf extensions or cirrus of
can pull itself up through the tree canopy. Other species
Desmoncus myriacanthos
have a similar projection called a flagellum that is an
extension of the inflorescence and is used in a similar
fashion as the cirrus. The stems
of these palms are very pliable
and are the source for making
rattan furniture.
Areca triandra is a beautiful
palm shrub
Caryota mitis can make an
excellent screening shrub
There are some palms that can
grow either as a tree or shrub as
they can grow either as solitary
stemmed or clustering depending
on the form they take. Some
examples are Dypsis
madagascariensis, Chamaedorea
tepejilote and Areca vestiaria.
Generally, if you have the solitary
form of a species, its offspring
will also be solitary and if a
clustering form, the offspring will be clustering. Palms that
have this trait are noted on the website descriptions.
Chamaedorea adscendens is another
example of a groundcover palm
Calamus cilaris is a very ornamental
small vining palm
Hyphaene thebaica is a large branching tree that can
produce an giant canopy

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