Rent Shop Volunteer Join

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?

Share

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions

Please forgive us, but Mr. Smarty Plants has been overwhelmed by a flood of mail and must take a break for awhile to catch up. We hope to be accepting new questions again soon. Thank you!

Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.

 
rate this answer
3 ratings

Thursday - December 18, 2008

From: Las Vegas, NV
Region: Rocky Mountain
Topic: Trees
Title: Is the palm tree a true tree?
Answered by: Nan Hampton

QUESTION:

Hello, There has been constant debate here about the Palm Tree. I'm in Las Vegas and I have heard everything from it not being a true tree but a cacti or a giant thistle?! I've tried to research it but I'm unable to find anything except that it's a Palm.. well I know that! So would it classify as a true tree? If not where does it fall? Where can I learn more? Thank you! :o)

ANSWER:

Here is the definition of a tree from our Glossary of Botanical Terms:

"A woody perennial plant having a single main stem or trunk which generally grows more than 20 feet tall."

Palms are woody perennials with a single main stem and when they surpass 20 feet, they do qualify as a tree.  They aren't cacti (Family Cactaceae), nor thisties (Family Asteraceae), nor even agaves (Family Agavaceae).  They are in the Family Arecaceae (Palm Family). Their botanical family was formerly called Family Palmae or Palmaceae, but plant taxanomists, in their infinite wisdom, changed the name to the now accepted Family Arecaceae.  You can read more about the Arecaceae.

Here are a few members of the Family Arecaceae that are native to North America:

Sabal mexicana (Rio Grande palmetto)

Sabal minor (dwarf palmetto)

Sabal palmetto (cabbage palmetto)

Washingtonia filifera (California fan palm)

Rhapidophyllum hystrix (needle palm)

You will notice that not all palms qualify as trees (e.g., Sabal minor and Rhapidophyllum hystrix).


Sabal mexicana

Sabal minor

Sabal palmetto

Rhapidophyllum hystrix

 

 

More Trees Questions

Northern Catalpa Tree Doing Poorly
July 02, 2014 - One of our Northern Catalpa trees appears to be dying. It is about 28 feet tall and this year only about 1/3 of it is producing leaves. It is next to our largest Catalpa tree (about 65 feet tall and a...
view the full question and answer

Problems with Cedar Elm in Kerrville TX
April 28, 2012 - We live in 10 miles outside Kerrville - have a Cedar Elm tree - planted 4 or 5 years ago, 15-20 foot high, is losing leaves in the top 1/4th. Rest of leaves look healthy and green.
view the full question and answer

Shade-loving plants for birds in New Jersey
March 25, 2013 - What native plants should I add to my property, Zone 6, to feed birds naturally? I have a heavily treed lot, so I'd like names of shade loving perennials. Seed or fruit bearing options would be gre...
view the full question and answer

Trimming live oaks in Mamou LA
August 24, 2009 - We have 3 large Live Oak trees in our yard. The problem we are having is when we trim a branch off so we can walk under the branch, the whole branch dies back. Is there a certain way to trim the limbs...
view the full question and answer

Need suggestions for plants for a privacy screen in Long Beach, NY.
August 10, 2011 - I have recently added 1500sq.ft. to my backyard. My backyard faces a busy road. I would like to place native trees and bushes along the fence for added privacy, shade and to protect my house from the...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.