Palm trees are a botanical family of perennial lianas, shrubs, and trees.
There are about 2600 species of palm trees.
Most palms are native to tropical and subtropical climates.
Palms thrive in moist and hot climates, however, they can be found in many different habitats. Their diversity is highest in wet, lowland forests.
Most palms are distinguished by their large, compound, evergreen leaves, known as fronds, arranged at the top of an unbranched stem.
The lifespan of a palm tree is up to 100 years, depending on the species.
The trunk of a palm tree is the structure that holds the leafy vegetation above the ground. It is sometimes fleshy and at other times quite woody. But, it does not have classic bark. Size of the trunk is extremely variable, from less than 1.5 centimeters (half of an inch) in diameter to up to 1.2 meters (4 feet) in diameter. Trunk color is usually brown, gray or green.
Palm tree leaves are called fronds. Fronds are described as being either feather-leaved or fan-leaved. They have a spiral formation and are located toward the top of a palm tree at the tree’s crown.
The flowers grow on an inflorescence, a special branch just for carrying the great number of tiny flowers. The flowers are generally small and white, and are star-shaped. The sepals and petals usually number three each.
The most common fruits that grow from palm trees are coconuts and dates. Other fruits from palm trees include the acai berry, jubaea, peach palm fruit and betel nut.
The tallest palm tree species is the palma de cera (Ceroxylon quindiuense) also known as wax palm. It is native to the humid montane forests of the Andes in Colombia and northern Peru. This palm species can grow to a height of 60 meters (200 feet).
The Dypsis minuta is probably the smallest palm species in the world and will probably not surpass 30 centimeters (12 inches) in height. This species is endemic to Madagascar.
The largest seed in the world is the coco de mer, the seed of a palm tree. It can reach about 30 centimeters (12 inches) long, and weigh up to 18 kilograms (40 pounds). The coco de mer, a giant, dark brown seed, has been protected by the government of the Seychelles because of its rarity.
The record for the most palm trees planted in 10 years is 42 million and was achieved by the United Arab Emirates between 1999 and 2009. The certificate was presented on the Khalifa awards at the Emirate Palace.
Human use of palms is as old or older than human civilization itself, starting with the cultivation of the date palm by Mesopotamians and other Middle Eastern peoples 5000 years or more ago.
In the height of Egyptian culture, palm trees were worshiped by many; an indication of the importance of palms in ancient times is that they are mentioned more than 30 times in the Bible.
In many parts of the world palms evolved into a very important part of some civilizations culture, livelihood and agriculture.
Palms have great economic importance, including coconut products, oils, dates, palm syrup, ivory nuts, carnauba wax, rattan cane, raffia, and palm wood.
The palm branch was a symbol of triumph and victory in pre-Christian times. The Romans rewarded champions of the games and celebrated military successes with palm branches. Early Christians used the palm branch to symbolize the victory of the faithful over enemies of the soul, as in the Palm Sunday festival celebrating the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. In Judaism, the palm represents peace and plenty, and is one of the Four Species of Sukkot; the palm may also symbolize the Tree of Life in Kabbalah.
For inhabitants of cooler climates today, palms symbolize the tropics and vacations.
Franciscan missionaries are credited with being the first to plant palm trees in California, perhaps in reference to the tree’s biblical associations. But it was not until Southern California’s turn of the 20th century gardening craze that the region’s leisure class introduced the palm as the region’s preeminent decorative plant. Providing neither shade nor marketable fruit, the palm was entirely ornamental.
From a fossil point of view, palm trees go back at least eighty million years ago to the Cretaceous Period during the times of the dinosaurs. Fossils of varieties of palm trees have been found from that era. As the Earth’s land masses have migrated, we even find fossils of palms in the most unexpected locations. Very old fossils of palm can even be found in the icy land masses in the Antarctic. Experts feel that perhaps palm trees were among the earliest of all flowering trees.
Like many other plants, palms have been threatened by human intervention and exploitation. The greatest risk to palms is destruction of habitat, especially in the tropical forests, due to urbanization, wood-chipping, mining, and conversion to farmland.