Did you know that a coconut tree is somewhat different from a palm tree? However, how is it possible when it is a type of palm tree itself?
We have got you confused, isn’t it?
The truth is, there are multiple types of palm trees, but only one species bears coconuts.
Put another way, all coconut trees fall under the umbrella classification of palm trees, but not all palm trees bear coconuts.
By the end of this article, we aim to help you understand the difference between the two.
Let’s get down to the bottom of this.
Table of Contents
- 1 Palm Tree
- 2 Coconut Tree
- 3 Fruit Bearing Palm Trees
- 4 Coconut Tree Vs. Palm Tree – Differences
- 5 Coconut Vs. Palm Tree – Identification
- 6 Coconut Fruit Uses
- 7 Summary
As hinted earlier, a palm tree is a blanket term for all tree types 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 them on the ground or in pots.
You will quickly identify them through their leaves, 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 appear reedy and carry small heads with their fronds at the top.
Similarly, palm trees have no standard height. Their species vary widely in size, with some growing to 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 those 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.
Palm trees are evergreen and hardly shed any leaves.
Scientifically, the coconut tree goes by the name Cocos nucifera. It’s also called the coconut palm. It’s the only species of palm tree that bear coconuts; however, many other subvarieties of 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.
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 — the coconut.
However, other palm trees also produce fruits. For example, oil palm trees have 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. One tree produces up to 25 coconuts in a year.
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.
Coconut Tree Height
You need to know there are two coconut tree 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.
These two categories carry various subtypes— growing in different locations with fruits varying 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.
Fruit Bearing Palm Trees
There exist other palm trees that also bear fruit. These fruits are obviously not coconuts. Some of them include:
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— the dates that vary in color, size, and quality.
It’s a staple food in North Africa and the Middle East and is quite popular in other parts of the world, such as Mexico, India, Pakistan, and 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.
Date palms start bearing fruits at 4-5 years old and reach total capacity by the 10th -15th year. Notably, not all fruits are meant for human consumption— avoid picking any random berries that fall from the trees.
The tree has a high economic value.
High Plateau Coconut Palm ( Beccariophoenix alfredii)
Though not fruit-bearing, the high plateau coconut palm is a newly discovered tree found in the family Arecaceae.
It resembles the coconut palm and thrives best in cooler temperatures. That tree has its origins in Madagascar, growing at an elevation of approximately 1000 meters.
It’s a perfect replacement for coconut palm in cooler temperatures since the latter generally prefers warmer climates.
Queen Palm (Syagrus romanzoffiana)
Queen palms are single-trunked and crowned with bright pinnate leaves that morph into a beautiful canopy. The tree serves well for landscaping in warm areas and produces bright orange dates.
The tree is an ornamental— growing up to 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 turn into bright orange fruits by winter.
The tree requires regular maintenance and prefers full sun— it is drought tolerant once established.
The best soil types include sand, clay, and loam.
Oil Palm or African Oil Palm (Elaeis guineensis)
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 primary source of palm oil.
They grow to a maximum of 66 feet, with leaves spanning over 10-16 feet.
The trees bear bright red fruits appearing in large clusters, with each fruit containing a single seed (palm kernel). 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.
- The leaves are wide-shaped.
- Bears fruits
- 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.
- The leaves are fan-shaped.
- Some varieties 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 pointed out standard features in both trees to help you identify them quickly.
Identifying a Coconut Tree
You should quickly identify a coconut tree via the following features:
- It has a slender and textured trunk that appears light in color compared to other palm trees.
- Grows up to 100 feet in most species. Dwarf varieties can reach only 40 feet.
- Their fruits are covered with fibrous woody strands
- They have a columnar trunk that is 15-17 feet long
- Thick base with frond capped top.
- The fronds spread up to 5 feet wide.
- Feather-shaped leaves
Identifying a Palm Tree
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 and fat trunks.
- Fan-like fronds though some dwarf varieties have pinnate fronds.
- Smooth and a slender trunk
Coconut Fruit Uses
The coconut tree has many uses, not to mention that entire civilizations have depended on it for survival. In Malaysian culture, it is referred to as “the tree of a thousand uses.”
- Coconut water is a rich source of sugars, fiber, vitamins, and antioxidants. It rehydrates and rejuvenates the body well in case of severe dehydration.
- The fruit forms part of various culinary dishes, especially in Southeast Asian countries.
- Coconut oil moisturizes your skin and improves its tone and elasticity. It is also effective against head lice and repels insects.
- The husks are useful as fuel, charcoal, and mops. They are also used in making ropes, fishing nets, and brushes.
- The shells are useful as dishes and bird feeders.
The coconut and palm trees are pretty similar, 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.
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.
Job Kiniale is a certified crop scientist and gardening enthusiast with a passion to help beginning gardeners navigate their newfound hobby. Let’s talk about plants, backyard ideas, and general gardening advice. Outside work, Job loves spending time with family.