9 Types of Palm Trees in California (Including Native Palm)

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Written By Thomas Pitto

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Home » California » 9 Types of Palm Trees in California (Including Native Palm)

For many people, mentioning the state of California conjures up images of palm trees and desert oasis.

Contrary to popular belief, only one type of palm tree is native to the state.

However, this vast swath of land, whose growing zones extend from 5a – to 11a includes plenty of warm regions where numerous types of palm trees can be cultivated.

9 Palm Trees To Cultivate in California

1. California Fan Palm (Washingtonia filifera) – Native Palm Tree

California Fan Palm (Washingtonia filifera)
Image by Forest and Kim Starr via Flickr

The California Fan Palm occurs naturally in isolated areas of southeastern California; in desert oases of the Mojave and Sonoran Deserts. It’s also found in southwestern Arizona, and Northern Baja California, Mexico, at elevations between 500 and 1000 feet.

The California Palm lines the Streets of Los Angeles and it is likely what comes to mind when many people think of the city.

It has a large gray trunk with horizontal lines and vertical fissures. Numerous evergreen leaves adorn the tree, which is composed of leaf stalks 3-5 ft long, with hooked thorns on the edges. A fine thread-like filament surrounds the toothed leaf edges.

Left unpruned, the old, dead leaves adorn the tree like a skirt or beard, but most landscapers and homeowners prune these off for a more uniform and tidy look.

In the spring, clusters of huge, three-lobed flowers appear that are about ½ inch long and hang down from the leaf bases. California fan palms will grow in any soil type; from sand to clay, and can even tolerate light frost and snow.

They can also withstand salt, and temperatures as low as 15 Fahrenheit. Once established, they are drought tolerant.

Other Common Names: Desert Fan Palm, California Palm, American Cotton Palm, Cotton Palm, Desert Palm, Washington Palm

Growing Zones: 8-11

Average Size at Maturity: 30-80 ft tall and 10-15 ft wide

Flowering Season: Summer

2. King Palm (Archontophoenix alexandrae)

Alexander Palm, King Palm tree (Archontophoenix alexandrae)
Images by Fern Berg, Own Work, for Tree Vitalize

The King Palm offers many colors to adorn the palate of your landscape; from the multi-colored trunk to the dark green, feathery fronds. For this reason, it’s become popular with Southern California gardeners.

The trunk is smooth and the crown shaft is lime-green, with a collection of leaf bases all around one another. As the fronds age and fall off, they expose showy rings around the trunk.

What’s more, the King Palm will provide even more seasonal color, with the appearance of purple flowers with a white blush to them. King Palms are perfect if you want to add a tropical splash of color to your home.

These natives of the tropical forests of Queensland, Australia needs little in the way of maintenance as they are ‘self-pruning.’ They look spectacular as solitary trees or planted in clusters.

King Palms can be grown in full sun or partial shade, but full sun may cause brown leaf tips. They are drought and salt tolerant, requiring little water to thrive.

Other Common Names: Alexandra Palm, Northern Bangalow Palm, Majestic Palm, Alexander Palm

Growing Zones: 10-11

Average Size at Maturity: 40-60 ft tall and 10-15 ft tall

Flowering Season: Mid-summer

3. Kentia Palm (Howea forestiana)

Kentia Palm (Howea forestiana)
Image by denisbin via Flickr

The Kentia Palm is an elegant, slow-growing moderately sized palm that brings a tropical and lush feel to any landscape it’s planted in. It features a crown of weeping feathery foliage and a smooth green, ringed trunk.

Kentia Palms look attractive as singular specimens, but also look fantastic planted in clumps to give a forest grove effect.

Young trees will fare best in full shade, whilst older trees can handle part shade or full sun. Kentia palms can handle the urban environment and tolerate windy, frost-free, bayside areas, as well as the fog belt.

The Kentia will require summer irrigation and is not suited to areas where temperatures regularly drop below 30 Fahrenheit.

Other Common Names: Paradise Palm, Sentry Palm

Growing Zones: 9b to 11

Average Size at Maturity: 35-40 ft tall and 6-10 ft wide

Flowering Season: Winter

4. Date Palm (Phoenix dactylifera)

Date Palm Lyrae Willis
Images by Lyrae Willis, Own Work, for Tree Vitalize

If you’re after an authentic desert oasis feel, consider planting a date palm. Date palms are native to the Middle East and have nourished people with their tasty fruit for time immemorial. They are also cultivated in subtropical and tropical regions worldwide.

Date palm production in the US is limited to Southern California and Arizona. It’s possible to grow date palms in other areas, but the chances of them producing fruit are low.

Date palms need temperatures over 20 Fahrenheit to survive, with pollination taking place over 95 degrees. The fruit needs hot and dry temperatures along with warm nights. Date palms need cross-pollination to reliably produce fruit.

Date palms can grow rather large and spread with adventitious surface roots to help them gather ground surface water. Date palms can be grown in sand, loam, or even clay soils. Whilst drought-tolerant, they need plenty of water when flowering and fruiting.

Other Common Names: Date Tree

Growing Zones: 8-11

Average Size at Maturity: 50-80 ft tall and 20-40 ft wide

Flowering Season: Spring

5. Queen Palm (Syagrus romanzoffiana)

Queen Palm Syagrus romanzoffiana - leaves flowers - Sin Medieterraneo .cultivation 2020-04-30
Image by Lyrae Willis for Tree Vitalize

The Queen palm immediately brings a tropical sense of calm to any landscape with its elegant and feathery, flowing fronds.

If their lush foliage and rapid growth rate weren’t enough, they also produce large clusters of miniature blooms in the summer, which turn into attractive bunches of hanging orange fruit in the winter.

Once established, Queen Palms are fast-growing but do need ample moisture and don’t like excessively dry conditions.

Queen Palms do best in acidic soil and will suffer mineral deficiencies in alkaline soil, stunting the leaves. However, they can be grown in alkaline conditions with regular applications of manganese and iron.

Other Common Names: Cocos Palm

Growing Zones: 9b-11

Average Size at Maturity: 50-60 ft tall and 20-25 ft wide

Flowering Season: Summer

Available at: Fast-Growing-Trees

6. Mexican Fan Palm (Washingtonia robusta)

Mexican Fan Palm Lyrae Willis
Images by Lyrae Willis, Own Work, for Tree Vitalize

Mexican Fan Palms are tall palms native to Northern Mexico. They are closely related to the California Fan Palm but have a thinner trunk girth and thicker base.

Mature trees can have a width of 3 ft at the base and only 8 inches at the top. They have dark green, fan-shaped leaves, reaching between 3 and 5 ft wide.

The trunk is reddish-brown and fades to grey with age. Because of their large size, they aren’t suited to many smaller home gardens. Whilst native to the desert, Mexican fan palms naturally grow in pockets of water so are only moderately drought tolerant.

They prefer full sun or part shade, in well-drained sand to loam, and can tolerate slightly alkaline or acidic conditions.

Once they reach about 30 ft in height, they tend to naturally shed their dead leaves, meaning you won’t need to prune. Like the California palm, they transplant well.

Other Common Names: Skyduster, Mexican Washingtonia

Growing Zones: 9-11

Average Size at Maturity: 80-100 ft tall and 8-10 ft wide

Flowering Season: Spring

Available at: Fast-Growing-Trees

7. Bismarck Palm (Bismarckia nobilis)

Bismarck Palm (Bismarckia Nobilis) - Small and Large Tree
Images by Fern Berg, Own Work, for Tree Vitalize

The Bismarck Palm stands out because of its steel blue fan-shaped, evergreen foliage which measures 4 ft long and wide. The leaf bases split evenly and create an attractive pattern on the trunk.

The Bismarck is dioecious, with separate male and female plants. Female inflorescence is followed by brown fruit, 1 ½ inch across.

Bismarckia Palms are easy to care for and can recover from rare freezes at 25 Fahrenheit. It tolerates high and dry heat and is perfectly adapted to low desert areas. The bold color and texture of this palm make it a real standout in the landscape.

Bismarck Palms can be planted in well-drained soils in full sun to partial shade. It’s extremely drought tolerant and moderately tolerant of salt spray on the foliage.

Other Common Names: Bismarck Palm

Growing Zones: 10-11

Average Size at Maturity: 40-70 ft tall and 10-15 ft wide

Flowering Season: Spring or summer

Available at: Fast-Growing-Trees

8. Cuban Royal Palm (Roystonea regia)

Cuban Royal Palm (Roystonea regia)
Image by Dinesh Valke via Flickr

The Cuban Royal Palm is native to Cuba, Southern Florida, Central America, and some Caribbean Islands and will grow in certain frost-free areas of Southern California.

It features an attention-grabbing smooth white or grey trunk and a bright green crown shaft that blends in beautifully with the coastal Californian landscape.

Cuban Royal Palms have a medium to fast growth rate and can be planted in full sun or partial shade. They are drought-tolerant, having low to moderate water needs once established.

They also thrive in the heat, even in the low desert, making them an extremely versatile palm species that can be cultivated from coast to desert. Cuban Palms will tolerate almost any soil condition and cast a lovely silhouette in just about any landscape.

Other Common Names: Florida Royal Palm, Royal Palm

Growing Zones: 10-11

Average Size at Maturity: 50-70 ft tall, and 20-25 ft wide

Flowering Season: Mid-summer

9. San Jose Hesper Palm (Brahea brandegeei)

San Jose Hesper Palm (Brahea brandegeei)
Image by Megan Hansen via Flickr

The Guadalupe Palm is a tall and slender slow-growing solitary palm native to Baja California. It features delicate petioles and 3 ft long light green fan-shaped leaves that often yellow towards the end of the slightly dropping leaves.

The San Jose Hesper Palm is underappreciated in favor of its close cousin, Washingtonia robusta. Whilst both palms have narrow trunks, the San Jose Hesper Palm is a shorter and cleaner tree.

The leaf bases aren’t as tightly bound to the tree and become self-cleaning on established trees. However, younger trees can form a petticoat. The inflorescence is also more discreet and rarely protrudes beyond the leaves.

The San Jose Hesper Palm is suited to Southern California’s coastal areas and inland low-lying desert. They’ll tolerate aridity, and extreme heat as well as humidity without a problem.

Other Common Names: San Jose Hesper Palm, Palma de Taco

Growing Zones: 9b-11

Average Size at Maturity: 40-60 ft tall and 11-15 ft wide

Flowering Season: Late winter

Are Palm Trees Native to California?

Whilst many people associate palm trees with the California landscape, only one species of palm, the Californian Fan Palm (Washingtonia filifera) is native to the state. However, the climate is suitable for the cultivation of many different types of palms from other areas of the world with similar growing conditions.

Palm-lined Skyline

There’s something that palm trees offer in the landscape that just can’t be replicated by any other kind of tree. The waving of long and feathery fronds in the wind evokes a sense of peace and an easy-going lifestyle like no other tree can.

Californian gardeners have the luxury of being able to choose from a wealth of palm trees to plant in the home. Whilst those in coastal SoCal will have more options to choose from, NorCal gardeners still have plenty of options of palms to plant.

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Thomas Pitto

Propagation Expert & Permaculture Enthusiast

Thomas worked for a number of years as the head of plant propagation for a horticultural contractor taking care of many different species of ornamental trees & shrubs. He learned how to propagate certain endangered endemic species and has a love of permaculture, sustainability and conscious living. When Thomas isn't hiking in nature he can be found playing music, reading a book, or eating fruit under a tree.

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