Palm Trees

Identify a Cold Hardy Palm You Have at Hand

Leaf, Trunk and Other Important Details
Simplified Terminology

Familiarize yourself with the two basic palm shapes and their derivatives at the bottom of this page. This will better prepare you to identify your palm tree. Do you have a palmate or a pinnate palm? The fan form (palmate) is similar to a fan or open hand. The feather shape (pinnate) has a central dominant stem running the length of the branch.

After finding your leaf type (or as close a match as you can discover) note down the genus and species name(s). Then go to Trunk types to find a similar trunk. Next check your palm for thorns and narrow your list of species by going to the Thorn section to view the possible types of thorns and spines. After compiling a list of possible genus and species names click Browse to open the Genus Collections. Using your list, open the albums under the genus names and compare the close-up photos to your subject.

If you find the correct genus, but cannot decide which species is your plant, investigate Hastula and Ligule types. If you still cannot find your palm you may be trying to identify a palm that is too tropical for this list. Try clicking "Experiences of Palm Growers in Other Microclimates in Northern California" in the Table of Contents, and read what they are successfully growing. Also, go to Links and consider purchasing the "Quick Reference Guide, Palms for Southern California" from the Southern California Palm Society Web site. There is also the possibility that your palm is a hybrid, exhibiting the characteristics of more than one species.

The following types and groupings are based on visual similarities and do not necessarily indicate genetic relationship.

Fan, Palmate

Palmate "Fan-Shaped" Type Leaf

  • Palmate Type 1 "Scythe" - The rachis or stem that attaches the leaf to the trunk extends through the entire leaf (like an antique hand scythe or sickle).
  • Palmate Type 2 "Shovel" - The rachis continues beyond the border of the leaf into the fan but does not extend entirely through the leaf to the end (similar to the handle of a shovel extending into the metal blade).
  • Palmate Type 3 "Spatula" - The rachis does not continue into the leaf, but stops at the edge of the fan forming a hastula to grasp the leaflets (like a handle molded on a spatula).
Feather, Uniform Pinnate

Pinnate "Feather" Type Leaf