What is the Difference Between a Palm Tree and a Palmetto Tree?

Edisto Beach has some of the tallest Palmettos anywhere.

Edisto Beach has some of the tallest Palmettos anywhere.

I was thinking about Southern trees again today, I realized I really don’t know the difference between a palmetto tree and a palm tree.

So I Googled it—Only one answer was definitive:
“The palmetto tree has an “etto” at the end and the palm doesn’t.”

With enthusiasm I dropped a quick email to my new Urban Forester, Danny Burbage, tree maintenance specialist at The City of Charleston, South Carolina.

Danny’s Answer: “Palmettos are one variety of over two thousand palm varieties throughout the world. There are 5 species of palm native to SC; Sabal palmetto (in the photos herewith), Sabal minor, Pindo palm, Saw palm and Needle palm.”

Please I also asked: “Why do palm trees sometimes grow with a skinny, weak looking trunk segment low on the trunk?“

Danny’s answer: “When a palmetto exhibits the “skinny” spot, that indicates that it was a bad growing year(s) at that period in the palmetto’s life. It could have been caused by drought, excessive rain, etc.

Danny recommends two excellent websites on the subject of palms: www.palmtreesltd.com (a local company that specializes in palms) and the University of Florida web site  http://trec.ifas.ufl.edu/palms/

I photographed this palm in the "wild" in Florida in 2006.
I photographed this palm in the “wild” in Florida in 2006.

While U of FL offers a definitive Identification Chart,  Palm Trees Ltd. offers a descriptive illustrated list of 15 recommended varieties of palms/palmettos for landscaping (The specimens described on Palm Trees Ltd website are listed below):

This beauty photographed at the visitor center at Edisto Beach State Park, somehow makes thnk of an old west saloon singer.

This beauty, photographed at the visitor center at Edisto Beach State Park, somehow makes one think of an old western saloon singer or perhaps Marlene Dietrich.

Upright Palms

—Canary Island Date Palm
—Cocus or Pindo Palm
—Mexican Fan Palm
—Palmetto (Cabbage) Palm
—Ribbon Fan Palm or
(Weeping Cabbage Palm)
— Windmill Palm

Shrub Palms

—Dwarf Palmetto (Blue Stem)
— Mediterranean or
(European Fan) Palm
— Needle Palm
—Saw Palmetto (Scrub Palm)
—Hardy Bamboo Palm.


—Contie or Indian bread root ,
Wild sago or Florida Arrowroot
—Dioon edule or virgin’s palm
—Emperor Sago (Prince Sago)
—King Sago Palm

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4 Responses to “What is the Difference Between a Palm Tree and a Palmetto Tree?”

  1. Louise Bell says:

    Well, this gives a whole new meaning to “palm reading!”

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  2. Regie Pricr says:

    Next, find the difference in pines, I.e. Slash, Loblolly, Long Leaf, etc.

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  3. Maggie Klein says:

    Great shots! Palms remind me of warm. Do you think it will ever be warm again?

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  4. Danny Burbage says:

    Great piece on palms. One thing I forgot to mention is that palmettos are more akin to grasses than trees. Palms are moncocots while trees are dicots. Grasses are monocots and corn is a monocot.

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