When you think of Southwest Florida, images of white sandy beaches and palm trees most likely come to mind. Almost anywhere you look you’ll see tropical palms aligning the shorelines, roads, shopping centers and front lawns. While the tall, skinny palm tree with huge green branches may be the typical palm tree that comes to mind, you have probably noticed a variety of palm trees that vary in size and stature. Here are some of the common native palms you can see on Sanibel and Captiva.
Florida-Palm-Trees.com highlights that more than 2,500 palm tree species exist in the world, most of which can be grown in Florida. A common way to identify palm types is through the leaf structure known as the frond. Most palms have either feather-like fronds known as pinnates, or fan-like fronds called palmates. The royal palm and coconut palm are some of the most common feather-like palm trees and a favorite of most visitors. Bismarck palms and saw palmettos are great examples of a fan-shapped palm.
What palms are native on the Island?
With so many varieties, we narrowed down a list of common native palm trees you are likely to see on Sanibel and Captiva Islands.
The tall trees with the criss-crossing trunk pattern and large fan fronds are easily recognizable and very common on the islands. The cabbage palm is actually the Florida State Tree, and is native to the region. Old leaf bases called “boots” cover the trunk, creating the criss-cross pattern you see, though some of the mature Cabbage Palms have smooth bases. This plant is extremely salt-tolerant and can grow where high tides occur or in areas with standing water.
When asked to illustrate a tropical beach, most will draw a tall, skinny palm tree with large feather-like leaves. These are Royal Palms, and they are native to South Florida. The smooth, gray trunk is covered in scars from old leaves, and connects to the smooth bright-green shaft, which stem the long dark-green pinnate leaves. Royal palms love water and can grow about a foot each year.
Ok, Coconut Palms are not native, but they are everywhere. Similar looking to the Royal Palm, the Coconut Palm is another favorite found throughout the world. This palm, however, is not native to the U.S., and has likely been spread through its coconut fruits which float across ocean waters. Coconut Palms have large feather-like branches reaching 18’ long, with nearly 200 leaflets stemming from each branch. The tree grows best near the water where there is moist soil and warm temperatures.
The Saw Palmetto is the short-growing shrub with large finger-like palmate leaves that create dense ground cover. This bush-like plant can spread more than 20’ in diameter and usually bare 20-25 large palmate branches. A slow growing plant, the Saw Palmetto can with stand cold temperatures but grows best with lots of sunlight. Both the Green Saw Palmetto and Silver Saw Palmetto are native to Florida.
Florida Thatch Palm
The skinny palm tree with weepy large fan leaves is known as the Florida Thatch Palm. Mature Thatch Palms have smooth skinny trunks that are matted at the top, and have exposed roots at the base. With “Florida” in the name, it is evident this palm is native to the area. Thatch Palms tolerate salt and drought very well, but grow best in moist soil.
Keys Thatch Palm
The Keys Thatch is similar to the Florida Thatch though it usually doesn’t grow as tall. Generally the Keys Thatch have light green or yellowish leaves and a silver-colored underside. Where the palm branches meet the trunk the leave bases split, giving it a unique fanned-out appearance. The Keys Thatch is slow growing, and prefers moist soil growing conditions.
This father-like palm has similar features of the coconut and royal palm, however, it does not have a visible crownshaft. Instead, the fronds extend directly from the gray trunk, which when mature, display circular rings from its fallen fronds. This palm is native to South Florida, but is endangered due to wild collection of the tree and widespread land development. The Buccaneer Palm is a slow-growing tree that is salt tolerant but does not take well to cold temperatures.
Paurotis Palm Tree
Also known as the Everglades Palm, this tree is native to South Florida and is usually grown in clusters. This palm has large fan fronds with light green leaves and a silvery undercoating. Along the edges are sharp orange teeth, which is why the palm is also known as the Silver Saw Palm. The Paurotis Palm can grow in areas of standing water, and prefers sunlight to shady areas.