Hawaii Palm Trees: A Guide to Identifying and Appreciating the Tropical Beauties

Hawaii is home to a spectacular array of palm trees that contribute to its stunning landscape. From the native Loulu palm to the iconic Coconut palm, these trees add an exotic touch to the coastal and mountainous scenery. In this guide, we will explore the various types of palm trees found in Hawaii, providing descriptions and pictures to help you identify them.

Palms for Growing in Hawaii

With its tropical climate, Hawaii offers ideal conditions for palm trees to thrive. Sandy, loamy soil, warm temperatures, and ample moisture create the perfect environment. Palms suitable for growing in Hawaii are generally classified within USDA growing zones 9 to 13.

A prominent native Hawaiian palm is the Loulu (Pritchardia spp.), known for its fan-shaped fronds. These palms can be found throughout the islands, particularly in the mountains. However, smaller varieties of Hawaiian palms are also popular in landscaping, often seen in parks, residential gardens, and along streets. Other palm species commonly found in Hawaii include Coconut palms, Bottle palms, Foxtail palms, Bismarck palms, and Fishtail palms.

Hawaii Palm Tree Facts

Loulu palms, belonging to the Pritchardia genus, are native to Hawaii. These palms are characterized by their palmate leaves, also known as fan fronds. The round leaves have deep pleats that come together to form pointed tips, and they grow on arching or drooping petioles.

Loulu palms can vary in height, ranging from the small Pritchardia remota, which measures around 16 ft. (5 m), to the impressive Pritchardia schattaueri, which can grow up to 130 ft. (40 m). Most Hawaiian palms fall into a medium-sized range between 25 and 60 ft. (7.6 – 18 m) tall.

These native Hawaiian trees have a slow growth rate, and there are approximately 24 different varieties of native Hawaiian palms found across the eight islands. It’s interesting to note that each Hawaiian island has at least one distinct Loulu variety, some of which are rare and restricted to specific locations.

Coconut palm trees, although not native to Hawaii, have become synonymous with the islands’ coastal regions. These tall trees, with their curved trunks and arching green fronds, were brought to Hawaii by early Polynesian travelers. Loulu palms once covered much of the islands’ forests until the non-native palm species were introduced.

Types of Palm Trees in Hawaii

Apart from the native Loulu palms, Hawaii is home to various other palm tree species. Let’s explore some of them:

Loulu (Pritchardia spp.) — Hawaii’s Native Palm Trees

Loulu palms have a single trunk and can be identified by their large fan fronds, which measure 2 to 10 ft. (0.6 – 3 m) in length. The branches of certain Pritchardia species gracefully arch, displaying pleated round fronds. However, other native Hawaiian palms have drooping or weeping branches.

Different species of Loulu palms produce distinct fruits. These oval or spherical palm fruits grow in large clusters beneath the crown of branches, with sizes ranging from 0.75” to 2” (2 – 5 cm), depending on the species.

  • Pritchardia remota: This small palm tree is endemic to the Hawaiian island Nihoa and typically reaches heights of 13-16 ft. (4-5 m). It has a slim ringed trunk, dense crown with fan-shaped leaves, and small dark brown or black fruits.

  • Pritchardia munroi: Native to dry and moist forests on Molokai and Maui, this short Hawaiian palm grows up to 16 ft. (5 m) tall. It features drooping fan fronds that almost entirely cover the tree, obscuring the broad trunk from view.

  • Pritchardia arecina: This medium-sized Hawaiian palm can grow between 30 and 50 ft. (9 – 15 m) tall. Its large round palmate leaves, measuring 3 ft. (1 m) in length, grow on slightly arching stalks. Found in East Maui.

  • Pritchardia beccariana: Characterized by its smooth gray stalk and spreading crown of flat fan fronds, this tall and slender palm tree has upper fronds extending at right angles from the crown shaft, while lower fronds tend to droop. Native to the eastern slopes of Mauna Loa on the Big Island.

  • Pritchardia glabrata: This slow-growing dwarf Hawaiian palm reaches heights of 6.5 to 16 ft. (2 – 5 m). Its open crown is adorned with fan leaves, each measuring about 2 ft. (0.6 m) in length. Native to Lanai and West Maui.

  • Pritchardia lanigera: Native to Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa on the island of Hawaii, this exotic palm tree can grow up to 50 ft. (15 m) tall. It possesses large, round fan fronds growing on relatively short petioles.

Coconut Palm (Cocos nucifera)

The Coconut palm is perhaps the most iconic symbol of Hawaii. With its tall, branchless trunk and arching green pinnate fronds, this stately tree is instantly recognizable. It also produces fragrant yellow flowers and the characteristic palm coconuts.

Coconut palms reach heights of 50 to 100 ft. (15 – 30 m) and boast an open crown. Throughout the year, they bloom with large clusters of yellow flowers measuring 4 ft. (1.2 m) in length. These flowers are followed by hard coconuts—large green balls with a fibrous husk covering a woody shell.

Areca Palm (Chrysalidocarpus lutescens or Dypsis lutescens)

The Areca palm is a popular tropical palm known for its bushy evergreen foliage. Its lush palmate fronds measure 5 to 7 ft. (1.5 – 2.1 m) in length and contain 90 to 110 strap-like leaflets. In late summer, the palm blooms with clusters of bright yellow flowers, which are later followed by orange palm fruits.

Growing 12 to 30 ft. (3.6 – 9 m) tall with a width of 15 ft. (4.5 m), the Areca palm has cane-like yellowish-green ringed stems and curved fronds resembling a butterfly. It is widely grown as an indoor houseplant.

Bismarck Palm (Bismarckia nobilis)

The Bismarck palm is a majestic tropical palm tree, known for its huge silver-blue fan fronds. The round spiky palm leaves grow in all directions, creating an impressive visual display. Clusters of brown flowers grow on arching stems under the leaves, followed by oval fruits.

With an average height of 40 to 70 ft. (12 – 21 m) and a width of up to 15 ft. (5 m), the Bismarck palm makes a striking statement in any garden landscape. It is commonly seen in Hawaii and is also popular as a landscaping palm in California.

To be continued…