Palmetto Tree vs Palm Tree: How to Differente Them

While the Palmetto and palm tree belong to the same family, they are very different. However, both trees make an excellent addition to your landscape. It can be difficult to distinguish between both trees, but you can easily tell them apart by observing their trees, height, and growing conditions.

Palmetto vs. Palm Tree

Palmetto and Palm Tree


Palmetto trees are not palm trees, even though they belong to the same family of plants called Arecaceae, grow under similar conditions, and are often considered subgroups. Palmetto can be classified under the order Arecales, family Arecaceae and Kingdom Plantae. Palmetto has traditionally been a native species in Coastal zones from the Florida Pennisula into parts of North Carolina.

It is commonly grown for its shade and as ornamentals along avenues. Common names of this plant type include Cabbage Palmetto, Carolina Palmetto, Common Palmetto, Saw Palmetto, and Sabal Palmetto.

Like palmetto, palm trees can be classified as shrubs under the order Arecales, family Arecaceae and Kingdom Plantae. The lineage of palm trees has been traced to regions of India and Northern Africa.

With over 2,500 species, palm trees have been used as a food source for constructing tools and dwellings and providing shade from the hot desert sun. Romans often used palm branches to symbolize victory, representing peace and plenty in Judaism and Christianity.

Comparison Table

Below is a clear difference between the palmetto tree and the palm tree.

Palmetto TreePalm Tree
Common nameCabbage Palmetto, Carolina Palmetto, Saw Palmetto, Sabal PalmettoPalm Tree
Botanical nameSabal PalmArecaceae
Plant typeWoody perennial trees and shrubsWoody perennial trees and shrubs
Size30 ft tallVaries by species
Sun exposurePartial shadePartial shade
LeavesFan shaped leavesFeather shaped leaves
FruitsBerry sized fruitsHeavy and large sized fruits
TrunksGrows horizontallyGrows vertically
Hardiness zonesZone 6b7-11 (USDA)
Native areaCoastal Zones from the Florida Pennisula into parts of North CarolinaNorthern Africa, South America, Caribbean Asia, and More


The palmetto tree is much smaller than the palm tree and grows to about 30 ft tall. Like the palm tree, the palmetto tree does not have a trunk or bank; instead, it uses an underground stem. Once the tree establishes the stem, it will grow horizontally close to the ground.

On the other hand, the palm tree is the larger of the two. The trees do not produce trunks like ordinary trees and have no bark.

However, the palm tree remains short for the first few years while its stems grow underground. With the underground stem established, the palm tree will send its stem upward, increasing its height yearly.

Stem Structure

Palmetto tree stem, which resembles a trunk, grows horizontally and is shorter, while the palm trees have an elongated stem that amounts to over ¾ of the plant’s total weight.

Leaf Structure

Palmetto and Palm Tree Leaf

Palmetto leaves clump together at the base and spread outward like a fan. At the same time, palm trees have thin spinny leaves that form horizontally from a stalk in the shape of a feather. Palm tree stems are characterized by having a single apical meristem or growing point, also referred to as the bud or heart.


Palmetto trees have flat leaves that can grow about 36 inches long. The leaves usually have a star-shaped pattern that gives these trees their name. Palm tree, on the other hand, produces large fronds with alternating patterns.

Many of the large fronds have fan-shaped with shiny leaves. The tree also has long leaves 36 inches long with parallel veins.


Palmetto flowers are similar to palm trees and are dependent on variety. Saw palmetto produces long sticks with yellowish-white flowers.

In contrast, the dwarf palmetto creates shorter sticks extending just beyond the foliage’s tip. Palm tree varieties like the desert pal, royal palm, and queen palm have white flowers pleasing to the eyes and soft to the touch.


Palmetto and Palm Fruits

Palmetto trees produce a small berry that’s usually less than an inch long. Birds and local wildlife usually consume the fruits. Palm trees produce many types of fruit, including coconut and dates.

Palmettos are fruit-producing plants that regenerate by producing small berry-like fruits during the fall months (Between September and October). At the beginning of spring, the plant produces clusters of white flowers that attract beneficial insects. Once fertilized, the flowers harden to form numerous coffee-sized fruits that fall to the ground when ripe.

A single plant can produce over 500 fruits during a single season, though the production declines as the season progress. Palm trees grow best in hot tropical areas and produce fruits such as dates and coconuts. Dates and coconut trees are the most popular palm tree varieties.

Location/ Habitat

Unlike the Palm tree, Palmettos don’t grow to great heights. Rather, they limit themselves to short heights and are seen to grow under big trees. Palm trees grow tall and do not grow below a temperature of 16 degrees Celsius or less. They grow abundantly in tropical regions, but excessive rain can impair their growth.


The extent of palm trees has been used as medicines for urinary and reproductive health. The leaves are used as fodder and fuel in many parts of the world.

Lastly, due to their smaller size, they are used in home décor and gardening. For palm trees, the extracts are used as a beverage popularly known as palm wine or toddy.


There are lots of palmetto tree species, and they share some core differences in height, number of leaves, types of fruits, etc. The common varieties include Sabal palmetto, European fan palm, Windmill palm, and Bismark palm. Mexican palmetto, Dwarf palmetto, Saw palmetto etc. The common varieties of palm trees include the European fan palm, Pygmy Date Palm, Pindo Palm Tree, Triangle Palm Plant, Mediterranean Dwarf Palm, and Mazari Palm.

Common Pests and Diseases

Both plants can suffer from problems that affect them. The plant growth point of both trees is the bud, and it’s the point where there are young leaves.

If this part is affected, the plant can weaken and die. The common pests and diseases include Red Spider, Wolly aphid, Fusarium wilt, Ganoderma root, and Butt rot.

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