The quintessential image of a tropical paradise, the palm tree is much more significant than you might think. At the sight of a palm tree, most people imagine a sunny beach setting — but these sturdy plants can also grow in a variety of other environments. Here are 10 things you may not have known about these tropical beauties:
1. There are over 2,500 species of palm trees. The Arecaceae family of plants includes wonderfully diverse species found throughout the world, from the desert to the rainforest.
2. Not all palm trees are "trees," and not all plants called "palms" are truly palms. These evergreen plants can grow in the form of shrubs, trees or long, woody vines called lianas. Plants like the yucca palm, Torbay palm (pictured right), sago palm and traveler's palm are not part of the Arecaceae family.
3. Palm trees have two different types of leaves: palmate and pinnate. Palmate leaves, like hands, grow in a bunch at the end of a stem. Pinnate leaves are like feathers, growing all along either side of a stem.
4. Palm trees are important religious symbols. In the Bible, the people of Jerusalem greeted a triumphant Jesus just one week before his death and resurrection, a tradition now known and celebrated as Palm Sunday the week before Easter. Palms are mentioned dozens of times in both the Bible and the Quran. In Judaism, palms represent peace and plenty.
5. Lots of staples come from palm trees. Coconuts are an obvious product of palm trees, but did you know that dates, betel nuts and acai fruit all come from palm trees as well? Palm oil, as its name indicates, also comes from the fruit of the oil palm tree.
6. Palms grow best in USDA Zones 8-10. You don't have to live in Florida or California to use large palm trees in your landscaping. Check out this handy guide to discerning the USDA's planting zone map to find out if the plants would be viable where you live.
The Ceroxylon quindiuense, or Quindio wax palm, towers over the Cocora Valley in Colombia. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
7. The tallest palm tree can grow up to 197 feet tall! The Quindio wax palm (seen above), Colombia's national tree, is the tallest-growing species of palm.
8. The coco de mer palm tree has the largest seeds of any plant on Earth. The seeds can be as large as 20 inches in diameter and as heavy as 66 pounds!
9. Palm trees have a history with humans as old as the first societies. Archeological finds have shown that the date palm was commonly used in Mesopotamian society, for food and other purposes. Romans gave palm branches as a symbol of triumph to the triumphant champions of games and wars.
10. Have you ever heard of palm wine? Yeah! Also called "kallu," palm wine is a common alcoholic spirit in regions of Asia and Africa. It can be created from coconut palms, date palms, the Chilean wine palm, and other species.
Though many species of palms are sturdy and plentiful, as many as 100 species are endangered due to deforestation and unsustainable cultivation practices, such as for the heart of palm, which comes from a part of the tree that cannot be regrown. The rarest palm tree is the Hyophorbe amaricaulis; the only one left currently lives at the Botanic Gardens of Curepipe in Mauritius (pictured right).
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Click for photo credits
Torbay palm: Alistair Rennie/Shutterstock
Hyophorbe amaricaulis: Wikimedia Commons