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Plant Fact Sheets




Classification and Range

Palms are a very large group of flowering plants that comprise their own family, the Arecaceae. There are estimated to be 2,600 species of palms in 200 genera. Palms are ancient plants, having existed since the late Cretaceous period, which ended 65 million years ago. Palms occur in areas where water is easily available and are not generally found in very arid or very cold regions, such as temperate zones.

The few palms currently found in temperate or dry regions are remnants of a time when moist tropical weather was more widespread. Palms are very diverse and widespread in moist tropical regions, with a wide diversity of species in tropical Asia and America.

Physical Characteristics

Deodar cedars grow in the typical pyramid shape of conifer trees. Most deodar cedar trees we see in cultivation are around 70-80 feet (21.2-24.2 m) tall, but they have the potential to reach 250 feet (76 m). They are also a very broad tree and can easily spread to 50 feet (15 m).

Life Span

Palms are woody perennials, most species having a single, prominent trunk but others may have multiple trunks or small, compressed trunks. Some palms are climbers and have slender stems. The leaves of palms are distinctive and generally form a crown at the top of the plant. Palm leaves (also called fronds) are palmate (divided into lobes that diverge like fingers), pinnate (similar to a feather with leaflets extending from each side of the axis), or entire (with no separate segments). Palms generally produce small flowers, often in large numbers, that are pollinated by small insects such as beetles, flies and bees. Palm fruits are extremely important to the survival of fruit-eating birds and mammals that live in moist tropical forests.

Conservation Connection

There are two species of palms listed under Appendix II of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora), meaning that trade is restricted for these species. The World Conservation Union (IUCN) produces Red Lists of threatened plants and animals. There are 204 species of palms listed as endangered in the 1997 IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants. There are two main threats to the survival of palms: habitat destruction and overharvesting. In cloud and rain forests, where many palm species are found, habitat destruction is a severe problem. Many palm species are restricted to tropical islands and are affected by both habitat destruction and the spread of non-native species of plants. Palms are important to people for a variety of daily needs such as food and building materials. Some of these uses of palms are currently sustainable and others are contributing significantly to the endangerment of palms. The Species Survival Commission of the IUCN has a Plant Action Plan concerning palms. The action plan will identify which are sustainable uses of palms and will look at alternatives to those that are currently unsustainable. Woodland Park Zoo encourages an appreciation of these majestic plants by exhibiting several species of palms throughout its bioclimatic zones, including the Tropical Rain Forest.

How You Can Help!

Learn ways you can help conserve wildlife and the habitats they require for survival by visiting our How You Can Help section.


Palm Fascinating Facts

  • The double coconut palm (Lodoicea maldivica) produces the largest seeds of the plant kingdom. One seed of this palm may weigh up to 44 pounds (20 kg).
  • The Central African raffia palm (Raphia regalis) has the longest leaves of the plant kingdom, with individual leaves measuring up to 82.5 feet (25 m) long
  • Palm hearts, the apical buds (growing tips) of palm trees, are edible and sought after by local peoples in tropical regions and are also exported to North America and Europe. Unfortunately, in order to harvest a palm heart, the palm tree must be felled. Demand for palm hearts has already caused some palm trees, such as some palms in the genus Euterpe, to become locally rare in their natural habitats