The Difference Between Palm Trees & Coconut Trees

Everyone knows what a palm tree looks like even if they haven't seen one in person. Because coconuts come from palm trees, most people assume that a palm tree and a coconut tree are the same thing. The fact is that they're two different species of the same tree. A coconut tree is a type of palm tree, but not all palm trees are coconut trees.

Palm Trees With Coconuts And Sunset In Background
credit: Faba-Photograhpy/Moment/GettyImages
The Difference Between Palm Trees & Coconut Trees

What Is a Palm Tree?

A palm tree is an umbrella term for any tree that can be classified as a member of the Palmaceae class. This class of tree contains more than 3,000 species and over 230 families. These palm trees grow all over the world, but in the United States, they're mostly limited to Florida and California.

All palm trees are identifiable by their leaves. All palms have leaves called "fronds" that have a fan-like shape and a structure that consists of sections that grow outward from a single point. Each species of palm tree has different leaf lengths, with some as long as 10 feet.

Palm trees vary from having thick, squat trunks that are covered in scales to being tall, thin reedy trees with small heads topped with fronds. They can thrive in both potted and planted environments. Palms have exceptionally hard external trunks, but internally, they're similar to virtually all other species of trees. Palm trees produce both fruit and flowers.

Other Characteristics of a Palm Tree

Perhaps surprisingly, not all palm trees actually look like traditional trees. These species can sometimes grow in the form of shrubbery or even long vines. Palm trees have two different varieties of leaves. One of these varieties grows in an oblong shape that looks very similar to feathers. They grow in pointed, narrow shapes extending outward from the stem. The other kind of leaves grow at the very end of the stem and are larger and spread out almost in the shape of hands.

Palm trees are of varying heights and thicknesses, and the tallest varieties can grow up to 197 feet tall. While only certain climates support the growth of palm trees, they're legal to be used in landscaping all across the United States, although maintaining them in cold weather can be difficult. Palm trees aren't deciduous trees, meaning that they don't shed their leaves during the winter months and are evergreen all year long.

The Difference Between a Palm Tree and a Date Tree

There are a lot of questions about the specifics of a palm tree vs. a date tree. Date palms are a species of the palm family. Date palms have been critically important throughout history and have provided food for human beings since the beginning of measured time. Date palms and dates themselves have been named as a food source for humans since the Mesopotamian period. Date palms are a type of palm tree, but not all palm trees are date palms.

There are about 13 species of date palm trees. They vary tremendously in height and thickness, and different species have different levels of tolerance for humidity and dryness. Female date palm seeds need to be pollinated by male date palm trees. If they're not pollinated during the springtime, the blossoms will fall to the ground without bearing any fruit.

The Difference Between a Palm Tree and a Coconut Tree

Most people assume that all palm trees are coconut trees because of the prevalence of the coconut in palm trees in popular culture. However, only a specific species of palm trees bear coconuts. The coconut palm tree and the oil palm tree are two distinct trees that look very similar. The coconut palm is actually the most widely grown palm tree in the world. They're strong and their roots extend deep into the soil. They're hardy trees and can live for 100 years.

In the United States, coconut palms are only grown in the tropical region of Florida. Palm trees that appear in places like California and Arizona aren't coconut palms. Coconut palms need the humidity and moisture of a tropical or subtropical environment to survive and thrive. Despite its name, the coconut isn't actually a nut. It's a drupe or "fruit."

As all members of the palm tree family bear fruit, the coconut palm is no exception. The uses for the coconut are extensive and have been enjoyed by human beings since the beginning of time. Coconut meat, coconut water and coconut oil are just a few of the products that the coconut fruit can be used for.

The coconut tree has sustained entire civilizations with its fruit. The Malaysian culture has a term for coconut trees that translates to "the tree of a thousand uses." People dry and eat coconut meat, drink the water, use the oil for a variety of purposes and even use the husk. Even the parts that contain a surplus of dietary fiber prohibitive for the human digestive system can be fed to cattle since they're able to digest it properly.

What Are Coconuts Used For?

Coconuts are a husked fruit containing meat and water. These are the two by-products that are most familiar to people, but there are actually more than a hundred uses for the best-known fruit of the palm tree. The tree is even known as "The Tree of Life" in the Philippines wherein the 1970s General Marcos commissioned a palace to be built completely out of coconuts and coconut materials.

Beyond architecture, coconuts are used for almost everything from medicine to floor coverings to skincare products. There are several different elements of the coconut that are repurposed for a variety of uses. Many world economies rely heavily on trading coconuts, and it's a critical part of life on almost every continent in the world.

How Are the Different Parts of the Coconut Used?

The exterior of the coconut shell has a surprising number of uses. The coir is made up of the fiber on the outside of the husk and is used to make ropes, sacs, compost, brushes and even a waterproof joint sealer for boats. A tea can also be made using the fibers, as is served to help with inflammatory conditions in countries like Brazil. The husk itself is used for charcoal, fuel, floor polishing, an insect repellent and a skin exfoliator. The shells are used for bird feeders, dishes, decoration and crafts. Inside the shell is coconut water.

Coconut water is consumed regularly in tropical areas where the fruit is found. It has an excellent supply of vitamins, fiber, antioxidants and sugar. It restores the body's balance of electrolytes and can be used as an emergency infusion because it's capable of mixing safely with blood. It also dissolves kidney stones. Drinking from a coconut is as simple as chopping off the top and inserting a straw.

Coconut oil is known to reduce wrinkles and soften and moisturize the skin. It can remove head lice, decrease the appearance of varicose veins, work to condition the hair and improve the skin's tone and elasticity. In addition to its cosmetic benefits, coconut oil can be used medicinally. It can help to ease symptoms of acid reflux, strengthen the liver, improve absorption of nutrients and relieve symptoms of chronic fatigue.


Ashley Friedman

Ashley Friedman

Ashley Friedman is a freelance writer with experience working in the home, design and interiors space.