Palm Trees of the USA: Native Habitats and Growing Zones

By: Ken Wilson

The palm, apart from its spiritual and religious symbolism, has for centuries been part of our lives in many aspects: as a source of food, a focal point in countless paintings and photographs, a highlight in landscapes and gardens, and a source of shelter on tropical beaches and desert oases. With over 2,600 species of palms worldwide, it’s not surprising that some are native to the US, growing in several zones.

There are fourteen species of palm native to the US, all except one growing naturally in the southeastern and southern states. That one exception is the California Fan Palm, also called California Washingtonia, which is native to the western part of North America.

There are many fascinating facts about palm trees, one of which is that most are not trees at all but are more closely related to grasses. Palms are monocots of the family Arecaceae (Palm Family) and are best described as woody perennials, with only those that exceed 20 feet in height termed trees. In some detail, I’ll explain what palms are found in the various states: their natural habitats and growing zones.

USA’s Palm Trees: Their Native Habitats and Growing Zones 

Palms are found in every continent except Antarctica, in regions of Africa, the Americas, Asia, Australia, and the South Pacific Islands. They prefer tropical and subtropical climates but are also found in arid areas.

In the US, palm trees are found in many areas where they have been introduced but are not native, but there are also several states where palm trees are grown in their native habitat.

What Palm Trees are Native to the US?

It is thought that the origins of the palm tree were in Africa before becoming dispersed by travelers throughout the world. The species native to the US include:

  • California Fan Palm – Washingtonia Filifera
  • Dwarf Palmetto – Sabal Minor
  • Cabbage Palmetto – Sabal Palmetto
  • Paurotis Palm/ Everglades Palm – Acoelorrhaphe Wrightii
  • Texas Palmetto – Sabal Brazoriensis
  • Florida Royal Palm – Roystonea Regia
  • Mexican Palm – Sabal Mexicana
  • Florida Silver Palm – Coccothrinax Argentata
  • Needle Palm – Rapidophyllum Hystrix
  • Florida Thatch Palm – Thrinax Radiata
  • Scrub Palm – Sabal Etonia
  • Florida Cherry Palm/Buccaneer Palm Pxeudophoenix Sargentii
  • Miami Palm – Sabal Miamiensis (about to become extinct)

Where Do Palm Trees Grow?

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has made it easier to define where palm trees grow by dividing the country into Hardiness Areas based on their average minimum winter temperatures. Palm trees thrive in Hardiness Areas 12a (temperatures of 50-55⁰F) to 13b (65-70⁰F); those areas are almost all in the south and southeastern parts of the country. 

Some palm trees can withstand cold better than others, and these can be found in Hardiness Areas 8a (10-15⁰ F) to 11a (40-45⁰F).

What States Have Palm Trees?

The fourteen types of palms native to the continental USA are found from North Carolina through Florida and into Texas and inland as far as Arkansas and Oklahoma. In Hawaii, there are twenty-four different species of palms.

  • Florida has more palms than any other state and is home to 50 types, of which 12 are native to the state.
  • North Carolina also has an impressive variety of palms, but only the Sabal Palmetto (cabbage palm) is native to the state.
  • Georgia is the native habitat of the Cabbage, or Sabal Palm, the Needle Palm, and the Saw Palmetto, with at least seven other palm species that do well even in Georgia’s cold winter.
  • South Carolina has two native species of palms: the sabal palm, which is the state tree, and the needle palm. Other palms, including the Mexican fan palm and jelly palm, also grow but are not native to the state.
  • Louisiana was found in a survey to have 21 different palms growing in the south, but it is the native habitat of five: the cabbage palm, dwarf palmetto, needle palm, saw palmetto, and Texas palmetto.
  • California is the native habitat for only one palm species, the California Fan Palm (Washingtonia filifera), but many others have been brought in and do well, including Mexican fan, Dwarf Sugar, King Palm, Queen Palm, Canary Island Date, Pindo Palm, and Mediterranean fan.
  • Texas has two native palms, the Dwarf Palmetto (Sabal minor) and the Mexican palmetto (also known as Texan palmetto), both of which can handle the cold in the north of Texas. In the south, many other varieties of palm flourish.
  • Arizona, with its severe dry heat, is nevertheless home to many species of palm, but only one is native to the state:  the California fan palm, which grows along the western border of the state.
  • Hawaii has only one native genus of palm tree, the Pritchardia, found throughout the Hawaiian Islands. Loulu is the Hawaiian name, which refers to all 24 species of the genus.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Are Palm Trees Native to California?

The California Palm, Washingtonia filifera, is the only palm tree native to California. Palms were imported into California for the first time in the late 1700s by missionaries from Spain.

Are Palm Trees Native to Florida?

The warm climate and abundant rainfall make Florida the ideal environment for palm trees, which explains why they are so prolific – there are more palms in Florida than in any other state. However, there are only 12 species native to Florida, and the others have been brought in from South America, India, and Southeast Asia.

The native species include the Buccaneer palm (known also as the Florida cherry palm,) the Paurotis palm, and the Royal palm.

Are Palm Trees Native to Arizona?

While some experts say the California Fan palm is native to the western border of Arizona, others say there were no palms until settlers arrived, and all the palms in the state are imported.

Does Texas Have Palm Trees?

Two palm species are native to Texas: the dwarf palmetto and the Mexican palmetto (also called the Texan palmetto.) Other palms have been brought into Texas, but because most of the state has cold winters, being UDA Hardiness Areas 8 and 9, not all species will thrive.

Where are Palm Trees Native to?

Palm trees are mainly native to tropical and subtropical climates, where temperatures are high throughout the year, and there is abundant rainfall. However, there are palm species that thrive in hot, arid habitats. North and South America, Australia, the South Pacific, and Southeast Asia are regions where most species of palm originated.

Final Thoughts

Exotic beaches, tropical islands, and desert oases are the backdrops for the palm trees we often see on movie screens, advertising billboards, and cruise-line marketing material.

But palm trees are found in a wide range of native habitats and growing zones in the US from the East Coast across the continent to California in the west, and even further to Hawaii. There’s a palm for every location!

About the author 

Ken Wilson

Long time career in the home services industry from remodeling to patio construction. Currently residing to in SWFL and active contributor to multiple home & garden publications.