There are roughly 40 species of palm tree right here in the United States and you would think that would make up the vast majority, if not all of the palm trees in existence. Not so, as there are around 2,500 species of palm tree currently, with around 100 endangered and 10 recently extinct.

Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Arizona, Hawaii, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, California, and Louisiana all have palm trees. Alabama is probably the smallest home for palm trees as only a small portion of the state is close to the Gulf of Mexico.

Out of the ten states listed above, Hawaii has the most palm trees with 21 different species on the island state. However, when most people think of palm trees, Florida immediately springs to mind over Hawaii or California, though all three have their fair share.

Where do palm trees come from?

Photo by Taylor Beach / Unsplash

Palm trees aren’t indigenous to just one spot on the globe and they are thought to have hailed from South East Asia, the Pacific Islands, Africa, and India, at least for the most part.

The California Palm is native to the Western half of North America, so some palm trees never found their way across either the Atlantic or the Pacific. Of course, the problem with palm trees is that there are so many of them, so the varying ancestral species come from all over and are difficult to keep track of.

The Date Palm tree has quite the history as well, especially in Egypt. That explains why it easily comes to mind when conjuring images of the mighty Pharaohs of old and their ancient gods, splayed across their illustrious history in beautiful hieroglyphs and towering statues.

However, of all of the palm trees out there, thirteen are indigenous to the United States:

  • The Miami Palm
  • The Florida Royal Palm
  • The Florida Thatch Palm
  • Texas Palmetto
  • The Mexican Palm
  • The Everglades Palm
  • The Needle Palm
  • The Buccaneer Palm
  • Cabbage Palmetto
  • The Florida Silver Palm
  • Dwarf Palmetto
  • California Fan Palm
  • The Scrub Palm

Not all of the palms are gigantically tall. Some are short and squat, seemingly made out of nothing but great, green fan blades sticking out of the earth on spined stalks. Others fall somewhere in between.

Some are responsible for the term “palmetto bug,” an interesting euphemism for the most terrifying monster in all of the known world, the flying cockroach.

Historical palm trees

Supposedly, all palm trees are subordinate to the Date Palm, perhaps because the Date Palm has such an illuminating historical record. Originally cultivated around Mesopotamia in 4,000 BC (or so it’s thought), the Date Palm is splattered all over the most ancient historical records.

Which makes sense; after all, the dates have always been known to be a delicacy of Middle Eastern origins. While they may have been cultivated a mere 6,000 years ago, Date Palm tree seeds have been found in Northern Iraq. No, they didn’t just find them laying on the ground somewhere either.

These seeds were fossilized and dated back 50,000 years. Date Palms were also mentioned in the Code of Hammurabi, which places them in the period of 1700 BC.

In more recent history, and as it pertains to America, the Palm Tree became the symbol of Los Angeles in the early 1900s. Apparently, it was supposed to be Los Angeles’ version of the weeping willow, which is entirely strange because the two of them look nothing alike.

In Florida, the state that the eastern half of the United States always associates with the Palm Tree (along with mosquitoes, snakes, alligators, and suffocating heat, as if we all lived in abject terror and misery down here), the palm tree’s origins have Spanish settlers and conquerors to thank, who brought them across the sea on their journey.

The Royal Crown Palm tree is the tree most commonly seen and associated with Florida beaches, where the land meets the Gulf of Mexico.

What US state has the most palm trees?

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You would think that as much hype as California gets when it comes to palm trees, it would be the number one state, however, Florida is the state that takes the prize for the most palm trees.

It’s not even close either. In fact, compared to the other states that have palm trees, California is pulling up nearly dead last on the list. Florida is practically overrun with these things.

While five species of palm trees have the most numbers and density in Florida, there are an additional 7 species that call the state peninsula their home.

The Spanish who crossed the Atlantic hundreds of years ago did their job well. Florida also has the city with the most palm trees in all of North America.

Naples, Florida hosts more palm trees than any other tree species in the city or the surrounding areas and the city spends nearly a million dollars annually on their upkeep, maintenance, and safety.

Hurricanes are prevalent in Florida, after all, and a hurricane is known for knocking the crown clear off of a Palm Tree, leaving nothing but a dying trunk behind that will slowly wither and die.

In total, there are 13,000 palm trees in Naples alone and all other trees account for roughly 7,000 different species of non-palm trees.

How far north can palm trees survive in the US?

Typical old car in La Habana, Cuba
Photo by Stéphan Valentin / Unsplash

There are 13 species (we keep coming up with that number) of palm trees that can survive in colder environments than in Florida, Southern California, and Texas.

The Dwarf Palmetto is hardy enough to survive the occasional snow and sub-freezing temperatures. It grows as far north as Kansas and Oklahoma.

The Pindo Palm grows as far north as New Jersey, which has winters that would make Florida winters seem like balmy, beachside days, basking in the sun as the waves roll in.

  • Needle Palm Tree: Non-protected Needle Palms grow as far north as Cape Cod.
  • The Lady Palm: Grows in US zones 9a to 11a and can survive weather as cold as 18˚F.
  • The Date Palm: Can survive in temperatures as low as 15˚F and is found in US zones 8 to 11.
  • Queen Palm: Can survive temps as low as 18˚F and is found in the US zones 9b through 11b.
  • Cabbage Palm: Usually grows in the Southeastern regions of the US but can tolerate temperatures as low as 10˚F.
  • Saw Palmetto: Native to Florida but despite its native origins, it can survive subzero temperatures.
  • California Fan Palm: Native to the Southwest and California, the California Palm can tolerate temperatures that drop to 15˚F.

Palm trees are a lot hardier than you would imagine and they are found in places throughout the country that you certainly wouldn’t associate with palm trees. Cape Cod is a primary example. Who in the world would believe that there is a gigantic cluster of palms living in Massachusetts at this very moment?

Are palm trees good for anything?

Palm trees on the island of Ischia, Italy.
Photo by Arno Senoner / Unsplash

The state of Florida is practically overrun with palm trees. It’s to the point where the city of Miami has enacted a plan to reduce Miami’s Palm Tree population from 57% to around 25% in 2050.

According to native Miamians, palm trees don’t do much in the way of helping the environment by sucking up all of the Carbon Dioxide in the air, so the city has decided that palm trees need to be replaced by carbon dioxide hogs.

Does this mean that the Palm tree essentially has no use, not even in converting carbon dioxide into oxygen?

Palm trees are not trees, as it turns out, and are a form of grass, with the wood of the trunk resembling nothing more than tightly interwoven fibers that make the tree useless as a source of lumber.

So, you’re not going to build a house with Palm Tree wood. What is it good for then?

  • Palm tree oil
  • Flooring and decking
  • Utility poles and signposts
  • Fencing

As it turns out, there are a few things that palm trees can be used for. The oil extracted from the Palm Tree is frequently used in soft drinks as both a preservative and a flavoring.

It also has some creative uses for flooring (mostly in deck-style Tiki bars and such) for business construction along the beaches.

Fencing, utility poles, and signposts round out the usefulness of palm trees. If we all woke up tomorrow and there were no more palm trees, it’s safe to say that no one would notice unless you’re a Floridian or heard it on the news.

Final thoughts

There are 40 species of palm trees in the United States including the island state of Hawaii. Florida happens to beat them all in terms of how many palm trees exist in any one state, including Hawaii, which you would think would be no easy feat given the subject.

While you might not find a Palm Tree in Minnesota, swaying in a summer breeze, you wouldn’t have to drive as far south as you would think to start seeing them. Palm trees have certainly made their home in the US, regardless of the local climate.