Palm trees, with their distinctive slender trunks and bursts of fronds, evoke thoughts of tropical beaches, but there are over 2,500 species of palm trees with a variety of different characteristics and interesting facts. The taxonomical name for the palm family is Arecaceae. They all thrive best in warm climates. Some are toweringly tall and others are small enough to grow in a pot.
Palm trees can have pinnate or palmate leaves. Pinnate means “like a feather.” Palmate means “like a hand.” The pinnate leaves are arranged along one stem, on either side. The palmate leaves branch out from one common stem, like the fingers on a hand.
Palm trees have been useful to humans throughout history. They are mentioned multiple times in both the Bible and the Koran. Jesus was greeted with the honor of laying palms in front of him as he entered Jerusalem, giving us the holy day of Palm Sunday. The palm in this instance symbolized victory. Trees like the coconut palm and the date palm have been favored for their tasty fruit, for instance. The jelly palm of Brazil yields a fruit that tastes similar to apricots. Southeast Asia has the betel nut palm, whose nuts are chewed. The acai fruit has become a popular food recently.
The Brazilian palm yields carnauba wax, which can be used in everything from shoe polish and surfboard wax to the coating on candies or dental floss. Rattan and coir are used for home decorating. Rattan is used for furniture. Coir is the fiber from coconut shells and is used in doormats and ropes, for instance. Panama hats are made from palm fibers. Heart of palm is an edible addition to salads. Palm oil can be extracted and used in cooking or for industrial purposes. It is reddish in color and highly saturated with fat.
Palm trees in the United States are most commonly found in California, Hawaii and Florida. South Carolina is called “The Palmetto State” after the Sabal Palmetto, which is also the state tree of Florida.