Coconut Tree vs. Palm Tree – How To Identify The Difference

The striking resemblance between a coconut tree and a palm tree can be quite baffling.

You are likely to spot the trees in beach areas where they love to find habitation. Both the trees grow to towering heights with some exceptions.

However, is it possible that the last time you saw a palm tree, it was a coconut tree? The truth is, there are multiple types of palm trees, but only one species can bear coconuts.

Put another way, all coconut trees fall under the umbrella classification of palm trees, but not all palm trees bear coconuts.

Our aim by the end of this article is to help you understand the difference between the two trees to identify them quickly.

Let’s get down to the bottom of this. 

coconut-tree
Source | https://adventure.howstuffworks.com/

Palm Tree 

As hinted earlier, a palm tree is a blanket term for all tree types that fall under the Palmaceae flora class. Under this class, we got more than 3000 tree species and at least 230 families spread worldwide.

Palm trees love habitats with a tropical or subtropical climate. You can plant the palm trees on the ground or in pots.

You will quickly identify them through their leaves that are typically referred to as fronds. The leaves take the shape of a fan with a structure containing sections that spread outside from the main branch.

The length of the leaves varies depending on the species, but the longest grows up to 10 feet. Their trunk size also varies from species to species, with some having thick and dwarfed trunks while others have tall and scaly trunks.

Some tree species also appear reedy and carry small heads with their fronds at the top.

palm-tree
Source | https://forestsnews.cifor.org/

Similarly, palm trees have no standard height. Their species vary widely in height, with some growing to a height of 197 feet tall.

If you intend to grow them in establishments, consider maintaining them to keep them at a safe height. Another thing you should note about palm trees is that they have two varieties of leaves.

One of these varieties spreads out into the shape of hands, always growing at the end of the stem. The other variety takes an oblong shape and looks similar to feathers.

Their narrow pointed shapes extend out of the branch. Also, palm trees are evergreen all year round and hardly shade any leaves.

Coconut Tree

Scientifically, the coconut tree goes by the name Cocos nucifera. It’s also called the coconut palm. It’s the only species of palm trees that bear coconuts; however, many other coconut trees exist.

The coconut-bearing palm tree grows to a height of 100 feet tall. Their trunks have a smooth texture and are long and lean.

coconut-bearing-tree
Source | https://www.konnecthq.com/

You will easily spot them by their pinnate leaves that carry yellow flowers. For Cocos nucifera, its most defining feature is the fruit it produces – Coconut. 

However, other palm trees also produce fruits. For example, oil palm trees produce blackish-red fruits from which palm oil is extracted.

The Cocos nucifera begins bearing fruits at 4-5 years old and takes six months to produce a fully mature coconut. For the record, you don’t have to wait for the coconut to fully mature. The young fruits are sweeter than the fully matured ones.

One coconut tree produces up to 25 coconut fruits in a year. Given the look-alike nature of the palm and the coconut tree, people have the impression that both trees grow coconut; however, that is never the case. 

Coconut Tree Height 

In addition, you need to know that coconut trees exist in two categories: the tall and the dwarf coconut. The tall varieties grow up to 98 feet in height, while the dwarf varieties grow to 60 feet.

dwarf-coconut-tree
Source | https://www.trees.com/

These two categories carry several varieties of coconut palms. The varieties grow in different locations, and their fruits also vary in color, size, and shape.

Examples of tall varieties are the Panama Tall and the Jamaica Tall, while dwarf cultivars include the Malayan and Fiji dwarf. 

The tall varieties can cross-pollinate as opposed to the dwarfed ones.

Some coconut-bearing palm trees include the King coconut, the East Coast Tall coconut, the Macapuno coconut, the Mayan coconut, and the West Coast Tall coconut. 

Fruit Bearing Palm Trees 

There exist different types of palm trees that also bear fruit. These fruits are obviously not coconuts. Some of them are mentioned below:

Date Palm (Phoenix dactylifera

Native to Iraq, the date palm is found in the palm family Arecaceae. It’s cultivated for its sweet edible fruits.

date-palm-tree
Source | https://www.britannica.com/

It’s a staple food in North Africa and the Middle East and has spread to other parts of the world, such as Mexico, India, Pakistan, and California in the United States. Date palm grows to a height of 75 feet.

Their stems are marked with pruned stubs with pinnate leaves at the top that grows to 16 feet long. The one-seeded fruits they produce are referred to as dates and vary in color, size, and quality.

Date palms start bearing fruits at 4-5 years old and get to the full bearing capacity by the 10th -15th year. Notably, not all palm fruits are meant for human consumption.; thus, you want to avoid picking any random berries that fall from the trees. The tree has a high economic value. 

High Plateau Coconut Palm ( Beccariophoenix alfredii)

high-plateau-coconut
Source | https://en.wikipedia.org/

Though not fruit-bearing, the high plateau coconut palm is a newly discovered palm found in the family Arecaceae.

It resembles the coconut palm and thrives best in cooler temperatures. It originates from Madagascar, growing at an elevation of approximately 1000 meters.

It’s a perfect replacement for coconut palm in cooler temperatures since coconuts generally prefer warmer climates. 

Queen Palm (Syagrus romanzoffiana)

Queen palm trunks are single-trunked crowned with bright pinnate leaves that morph into a beautiful canopy. The tree serves as good landscape trees in warm areas and also produces bright orange dates.

queen-palm
Source | https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/

It’s ornamental, adding color to gardens. Their max growth height is 50 feet, with canopies that spread up to 25 feet.

Typical of tall palms, it has a straight trunk that is branchless with canopy leaves at the top. The queen palm produces tiny blossoms in summer that become fully matured flowers and orange fruits by Winter.

Queen palm requires good care to establish. It prefers full sun with a medium water amount and is also drought tolerant.

Queen’s palms grow in a range of soil types, including sand, clay, and loam, with a preference for alkaline soils. 

Oil Palm or African Oil Palm (Elaeis guineensis)

african-oil-palm-tree
Source | Wikipedia.com

African Oil Palm is native to West Africa and is also found in Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Central America, and the West Indies. This tree is the major source of palm oil.

They grow to a max height of 66 feet, with leaves spanning over 10-16 feet. They bear bright red fruits appearing in large clusters, with each fruit containing a single seed (palm kernel). Both the outer flesh of the fruit and the seed are rich in oil content.

Coconut Tree Vs. Palm Tree – Differences

This section lists the differences between the coconut and the palm tree to help you easily distinguish them. 

Coconut Tree

  • The leaves are wide-shaped
  • Bears fruits
  • Deep-rooted
  • A life span of 60-80 years. It can support up to three generations.
  • They prefer warm, hot, and moist climates typically found in tropical regions. 

    palm-tree-vs-coconut-tree
    Source | https://gardentabs.com/

Palm Tree

  • The leaves are fan-shaped
  • Some palm trees also bear fruits that are not coconuts
  • Produces palm oil (African Oil Palm)
  • Roots are spread out for stability
  • A life span of 150 years. The ones grown in tropical areas live 70 -100 years.
  • They prefer warm tropical climates.

Coconut Vs. Palm Tree – Identification

There are several ways to identify both tree types. We have identified standard features in both trees that will help you to identify them quickly. 

Identifying a Coconut Tree

You should quickly identify a coconut tree via the following features: 

  • Slender and textured tree trunk
  • A growth height of up to 100 feet in most species. Dwarf varieties can reach only 40 feet. 
  • Their fruits are covered with fibrous woody strands
  • Has a columnar trunk that is 15-17 meters long
  • Thick base with fronds capped top.
  • The fronds spread 15-25 meters wide
  • Feathery-shaped leaves

Identifying a Palm Tree 

palm-tree-leaves
Source | https://www.thespruce.com/

Palm trees and coconut trees are more or less similar, but this is how you should quickly identify a palm tree. 

  • Solitary single trunks or multi-trunk. The multiple trunks (3-4) appear like a trunk cluster woven together. Examples include the lady palm and the areca palm. 
  • The dwarf varieties have short, fat palm trunks. 
  • Fan-like fronds though some dwarf varieties have pinnate fronds. 
  • Smooth, slender trunk in some palm species. 

Coconut Fruit Uses 

coconut-fruit

The coconut fruit has many uses, not to mention that entire civilizations have depended on it for survival. It fits nicely in some cultures, such as Malaysia, referred to as “the tree of a thousand uses.”

Apart from the consumption of its meat and water, the oil and the husks are also helpful for various purposes. Coconut water is a rich source of sugars, fiber, vitamins, and antioxidants.

Coconut water is also beneficial in balancing electrolytes in your body. It rehydrates and rejuvenates the body well in case of severe dehydration.

The fruits form part of skincare products, medicinal products, and floor coverings. 

The oil, for example, is helpful in multiple ways: 

  • Moisturizes your skin helping to avoid wrinkles. 
  • Improves skin tone and elasticity. 
  • Helps in getting rid of varicose veins showing up beneath your skin.
  • Has the ability to remove head lice. 
raw-coconut
Source | https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/

Medicinally, coconut is useful in the following ways: 

  • Strengthens the liver
  • Reduces symptoms of acid flux
  • Eases chronic fatigue symptoms
  • Improves nutrient absorption

The husks are useful as fuel, charcoal, and floor polishings. It also does not disappoint in repelling insect pests, making rope, fishing nets, and brushes.

The shells are useful as dishes and bird feeders. 

Summary 

The coconut tree and the palm tree have typical similarities, making it difficult to differentiate and identify them. However, a keen and closer observation of the two trees will reveal more than what meets the eye.

You should remember that all coconut trees are palm trees, but not all palm trees produce coconut fruit. The only coconut palm bearing the coconut fruit is the Cocos nucifera.

We hope this helps you know both trees better. 

CoCONUT-vs-PALM