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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.

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

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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

 

 

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