Difference between Palmetto and Palm Trees

Difference between palmetto and palm trees
Though many people think that palms and palmettoes are one and the same, the fact is, there exist marked differences between the two! This Buzzle article throws light on the same.
Did You Know?
There is just about one variety of the palmetto among over 2,000 kinds of palm trees found in the world.

Palm trees can be classified as shrubs, which fall under the order Arecales, family Arecaceae, and kingdom Plantae. Arecaceae is alternatively known as Palmae. In the United States, palms can be abundantly found in Florida, Georgia, North and South Carolina, and Louisiana. Studies reveal that there are over 2,600 species of palm trees that exist. Some are now considered as extinct. There are some species which have been clubbed as endangered. Some varieties of palm trees are bottle palm tree, Chinese fan palm tree, queen palm tree, etc.

Palmetto, like the palm tree, can also be classified under the same order and family of the plant kingdom. The other names of this plant type are Cabbage palmetto, Carolina palmetto, Common palmetto, etc. Some other types are Saw palmetto, Sabal palmetto, Carolina palmetto, etc. However, there are some factors that make palms and palmettoes different from each other, which will be discussed in the following lines of this article.


palm tree image
palmetto tree image

• The maximum height that a palm tree can achieve is about 80 feet.
• The size of a palmetto can vary between 30-60 feet. For example, Sabal palmetto grows up to 30 feet tall.

• The trunks of palm trees grow vertically.
• The trunks of palmetto trees grow horizontally. Palmettoes are essentially low-lying.


palmate fan-shaped
Palmate/Palmetto (fan-shaped)
palmetto fan shaped
Palmetto shrub
pinnate feather-shaped
Pinnate (feather-shaped)

• The palm tree usually exhibits large leaves that are diversified as Palmate and Pinnate. The Palmate type is more like the shape of a fan, whereas the Pinnate resembles a feather.
• On the contrary, palmettoes are more similar to the palmate variety of the palm trees; that is, their leaves take the shape of a fan. There are multiple leaflets which club together to take on the shape of a fan. In some cases, the leaves of the palmate come together in a way to depict the shape of a star.

• The stems are long and usually have no branches. The leaves are arranged in a spiral order. The size of the leaves may vary from anything between 18-36 inches.
• The usual size of a palmetto is close to 36 inches.


Broadly speaking, there is no distinct difference between the characteristic features of the flowers of a palm and a palmetto. But there is marked difference between their fruits.

palm fruit coconut
Coconut (fruit)
palmetto berry
Palmetto berries (red)

• Palms produce larger and heavier fruits.
• Palmettoes bear fruits that are much smaller and resemble berries.

• The flowers of a palm tree can be of two colors: yellow or white. They are monoecious (bear both sperm and egg).
• Some varieties of palmettoes produce small white flowers without any fragrance, while there are others that bear fragrant yellow flowers.


• Palm trees grow tall and ideally do not tend to grow below a temperature of 16°C or less. Similarly, excessive rains can impair their growth. These trees grow abundantly in the tropical region. However, exceptions do exist. There are some variety of palms which can even grow in colder regions like some areas in Canada.
• Palmettoes, unlike the palms, don't grow to great heights. Rather, they limit themselves to short heights and are seen to grow under big trees; i.e., they tend to grow undercover of bigger trees. Owing to this feature, palmettoes have an increased size of leaves so that more sunlight can strike against their leaves. Therefore, a variety of them is also known as the Dwarf Palmetto. However, palmettoes are not known to grow in colder regions.


• The extract of palms is used extensively as a beverage, popularly known as Palm wine or Toddy.

• Palm oils are used globally as an excellent cosmetic product. The leaves of palmettoes are used as fodder and fuel in many places.

• These are put to multiple uses ranging from handicrafts, jewelry, rituals, etc.
• The extract of palmettoes has been used as medicines for conditions of urinary and reproductive health.

• The leaves of palmettoes are used as fodder and fuel in many parts of the world.

• Given their smaller size, they are extensively used in home décor and gardening.

Needless to say, palms and palmettoes are highly useful, and using them incessantly has rendered some species as endangered. The need of the hour is to conserve them so that beaches do not become void of the palm factor, which makes them a treat for the eye!
areca nut palm and rice field
Phoenix palm in planter