Types of Coconut Trees

The coconut palm (Cocos nucifera) is one of the most widely distributed edible-bearing palms in the world. Found throughout tropical areas in the Caribbean, Pacific and Indian Ocean regions, the coconut palm is both a desirable ornamental as well as an essential commercial and sustenance crop. Nearly every part of the palm is used -- from the the wood to the fibrous drupe-fruit (the iconic coconut). There are only two known types of coconut palm: tall coconut palms and dwarf coconut palms.

  1. Tall Coconut Palms

    • Both the wild and domesticated tall coconut palms provide high numbers of large nuts and drupes, although the shape and size varies depending on the locality in which they are found. Most varieties of tall coconut palms grow, on average, to a height of 50 to 60 feet and a spread of 15 to 25 feet. The trunks are smooth and curved, with the pinnate, feather fronds at the crown. Fronds range in color from green to yellow and do not change colors with seasonal change. Tall palms should be planted in a well-drained, sandy area with full sun and maximum humidity for optimum growth. Mature palms can produce 50 to 80 fruits annually. Examples of tall coconut palms include Tagnanan from the Philippines and Rennel from Papua New Guinea.

    Dwarf Coconut Palms

    • Although similar in appearance, dwarf coconut palms are shorter than tall palms and produce fewer and smaller nuts and drupes. They are more popular in home and commercial cultivation because they require a considerably shorter maturation time than tall trees. According to the Species Profiles for Pacific Island Agroforestry, the dwarfs will bear fruit in three years, while the talls take five years. Like the talls, dwarf palms require adequate drainage, full sun and humidity; dwarf palms are less tolerant of changing conditions than talls. Dwarf palms include the Green Malayan and New Guinea Brown.

    Queen Palm

    • The queen palm, found natively in South America, is a different species (Syagrus romanzoffiana) than the coconut palm, although they look very similar to the dwarf coconut palm. Queen palms produce edible fruits more popular with birds than humans. The queen palm is usually cultivated as an ornamental tree and attracts breeding snails and caterpillars.

    High Plateau Coconut Palm

    • A recently discovered palm, the high plateau coconut palm (Beccariophoenix alfredii) is closely related to -- and often confused with -- the coconut palm. However, the high plateau coconut palm is more cold and drought tolerant than both types of coconut palms. This has increased interest in the palm as an ornamental plant for gardeners in climates ordinarily too cool for coconut palms.

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  • Photo Credit Medioimages/Photodisc/Photodisc/Getty Images

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