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Coconut Tree vs Palm Tree : What’s the Difference?

The Coconut tree is a member of the Palm family (Arecaceae) bearing fibrous dry drupe. 

Plants from the same family share a similar appearance, but not all Palms bear Coconut fruit. 

While most people confuse Palm trees with Coconut trees, the latter has broad leaves with skinny diagonal blades, different from other Palms with fan-shaped leaves. 

Other than the fruit, the Coconut tree’s physical attribute is what sets it apart from its cousin Palms.

Is a Coconut Tree a Palm Tree?

The ‘Palm tree’ is a broad term used for the plants of the family Arecaceae, with around 2600 species, including the Coconut tree.

Coconut and other Palm have a similar leaf structure that grows outwards from a single point. cocoHowever, these trees significantly differ in size, thickness, and height.

Picture illustrating the four most common varieties with their key features.
Palm trees have both nutritional and aesthetic benefits.

They grow to their fullest in the damp lowland forests of South America, the Caribbean, the South Pacific, and southern Asia.

How are Coconut Tree and Plam Tree Similar?

The table below explains the similarities between Coconut and other Palm trees.

Native RegionsSouth-east Asia, Pacific Ocean, Northern Africa
FamilyBelongs to the family Arecaceae
AppearanceFan-like distinct wide green fronds
Climatic ZoneUSAD 10 and warmer (except for indoor palms)
PropagationSeed germination

Differences Between a Coconut Tree and a Palm Tree

Identifying Coconut trees and Palm trees can be quite confusing. Seeing the Coconut fruit is the first distinction between those.

Despite being Palm trees, Coconuts vary in shape, size, leaves, height, and fruits produced.

Let’s have a look at the significant difference between the two.

1. Fruits Produced

The fruit of a Coconut tree is its most distinguishing feature. When Coconut trees reach the age of 4-5 years, they yield fruit.

These enormous fruits need an extra 6 to 12 months to reach full maturity. Every year, a single Coconut tree yield roughly 25 fruit.

However, Palm trees come in various shapes and sizes and produce fruit.

For instance, African Oil Palm produces brilliant red fruits in massive clusters, each holding a lone seed. The fruit’s exterior meat and seed are both high in oil content.

Likewise, sweet treats like dates are the outcome of a Date Palm tree, and some may not even bear fruits.

2. Leaf Colour & Size

The leaves of all Palm trees, including Coconut trees, are called fronds, having a central stem that grows to form a fan out of thin leaves.

Palm species are evergreen; i.e., they will retain their leaves throughout the year. However, these trees lose their leaves through browning throughout the year.

Huge Majestic Palms bear large leaves that can extend up to eight feet, while indoor Palms can have tiny leaves less than a foot long.

Besides, Cocos nucifera has pinnate leaves that are 4–6 m (13–20 ft) long and pinnae that are 60–90 cm (2–3 ft) long; old leaves peel away neatly, leaving the stem smooth.

The fan-like Coconut leaf boasts 200-250 tapering leaflets.

The coloration of Palm leaves varies from vibrant green to yellowish tones, like the Golden Cane Palm with beautiful golden hues.

Moreover, some Palms have small, spiky fronds, while others have fronds that may grow up to 10 feet long. For instance, the leaves of Rafia Regalis reach up to 82 feet.

3. Height & Structure

Unlike Coconut, the Palm tree has a variety of tall and dwarf plants.

A tropical island is ideal to home the Coconut plant, where its canopy covers a large portion of the beach.

While the Coconut trees may grow to be 60-80 feet tall and 20-30 feet broad, the height of Palm trees varies based on the species, ranging from a few inches to as large as 200 feet.

Meanwhile, the world’s largest Palm, the Quindío wax Palm, can reach 200 feet and is found in the montane forests of the Andes, in contrast to Rhapis’ super dwarf’ Palm trees growing only about 1-2 inches.

A line of Bismarck palm planted in a garden along with many other trees.
Bismarck Palm can grow 30-60 feet but is mainly adored when maintained at low height.

However, the Coconut Palm tree (Cocus nucifera) has a single grayish-brown trunk with a crown of green fronds at the top.

On the other hand, stems of Palm trees have fibers or potential spines, rough or smooth texture, single or multi variations, and trunks that develop underground.

4. Plant Longevity

Depending on the environmental conditions, the popular Coconut has an average lifespan of 70-100 years, which is still lesser than other hardwood trees. 

Areca Palm benefits you for about 40-50 years under proper care. But as indoor plants, they have a relatively shorter lifespan of around 20 years.

Talking about a Date Palm, they can live for as long as 200 years. 

5. Roots Development

The roots of the Coconut Palm tree go deeper into the earth as it grows higher, allowing it to survive in the wild for up to a decade.

Owing to its deep roots, it can resist even the most adverse weather conditions, such as monsoons and typhoons, providing mellow fruit, justice, and other Coconut benefits.

But, Palm trees have a fibrous root structure with shallow roots that do not develop deeper than 36 inches.

Even as the plant grows more extensive, they expand horizontally and stay thin. Further, roots form a root ball from the origination zone, with some above visible ground.

6. Plant Toxicity

Most Palm trees bear recognizable fruits like Coconuts, dates, etc. However, not all fruits from Palm trees are safe to consume.

The Pet Poison Helpline states Sago Palm to be toxic for you and your pets due to the presence of cycasin. Upon ingestion, your pet may have severe nerve and liver injuries depicted by vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, and cramps.

Similarly, Australian Ivy Palm poses toxins like terpenoids, saponin, and insoluble oxalates that irritate the oral cavity (mouth, tongue, and lips) with excessive drooling and difficulty swallowing in pets.

Before consuming fruits from any Palm tree, you need to be aware of the fruits’ toxicity.

Unlike others, Coconut trees don’t pose any toxins but are enjoyed for their refreshing sweet water and mellow endocarp.

Yet, the heavy drupe gravitating could be a threat to pedestrians.

Nevertheless, contact the American Association of Poison Control Center at (800) 222-1222 or ASPCA Poison Center at (800) 426-4435 for pet poisoning.

FAQs About Coconut Tree and Palm Tree

Do Coconuts grow on Palm trees?

Even though the Coconut and other Palm trees belong to the same family, not all Palm trees bear Coconuts.

Cocos nucifera is the only Palm tree that produces Coconuts.

Why does a coconut have 3 holes?

The indentations visible on a Coconut are germination pores.

One of the three pores is functional from which the shoot emerges, while rest two remains non-functional. 

To Conclude

Palm trees produce many other fruits, like dates. Moreover, they have differences in their leaf shapes, climate needs, and water requirements.

One might be tempted to try fruits from just any Palm tree, but unlike Coconut, some Palm fruit may not be safe to consume. Make sure to identify the Palm correctly.

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