Common Names of Common (and Uncommon) Palms*
by Bill Bittle

Everyone who collects palms has certainly had the experience of making a "find" in a nursery, knowing in his or her heart that this is an unusual plant, and asking the nurseryman for an identification, often to be told that the plant is a "Fan palm". Even worse, perhaps, is when the nurseryman tells you that your plant is a "Seaforthia elegans", which sounds very much as if he or she really has a grip on palm classification. You purchase it, rush it home and find that there is no such name listed in any of the hugely expensive and authoritative books you have accumulated.

For reasons known only to nurserymen and growers themselves, there has been a tendency for decades to sell most plants under "common names". For such plants as Sweet William, Four-O'clocks and Castor Oil Plant, few problems are encountered. These garden plants have carried unique and stable common names for so many years that most of us would have serious difficulty identifying them any other way. But when dealing with relatively uncommon plants (and with perhaps 15 exceptions, most palms are "uncommon" in most parts of the country), relatively few common names are known, and dealers tend to revert to descriptive or geographical terms (e.g., "Fan palm", "Madagascar palm", etc.)

Another problem is that many common names are not unique to a single genus or species, being applied to a variety of palms (e.g. "bamboo palm", applied to many species; "Lipstick palm", "Maharajah palm", "Pinang rajah", all applied in one source or another to Cyrtostachys renda).

I would say that, in the main, nursery terms fall into several broad categories:

  1. The Hopelessly Useless... A large nursery in Corpus Christi frequently labels palms as "Tropicals".
  2. The Almost Useless... As above, such terms as "Windmill palms", or "African palm".
  3. The Virtually Useless... Terms that apply to a number of unrelated palms (e.g. "stilt palms" applied to species of Iriartea and Socratea).
  4. The Sophisticated Useless... This category includes those palms which have been in the trade for years, and which are often sold under what appear to be botanically correct names but are not, often, because the names are invalid... "Seaforthia elegans", "Cocos australis", "Chamaerops excelsa".
  5. Just Plain Wrong... I bought a juvenile palm several years ago from a large wholesaler as a Jubaea chilensis. In about two years, it developed palmate leaves, and to this day remains unidentified.

Perhaps I am being too hard on nurserymen and growers. It is certainly true that the general public regards botanical names as cumbersome and unpronounceable (if not altogether occult), and avoids them altogether. Even many collectors favor common names for their plants. There is certainly no problem encountered when there is a general agreement on a common name, and when this name is reserved for only one species of palm. Everyone knows what a Queen Palm is, and I know of no other palm that has been given this name.

But there is a clear advantage to employing botanical names for less common palms, as well as in knowing the common names that are applied to a any of the more common palms. I have talked to a number of knowledgeable people recently, who have seen Majesty palms (now found everywhere), but who could not easily determine what they are botanically, since lists of common names are in short supply. In the interest of helping to clarify the common name problem (but hopefully not to further confuse the issue), I have compiled a list from a number of widely used sources in an attempt to afford a handy guide to common names/botanical names of many palms.

In the following, I have observed some fairly arbitrary rules:

1. Palm names in foreign languages are, in the main, not included. If you look through Hodel's excellent book on the Chamaedoreas, or Henderson, et al., Field Guide to the Palms of the Americas, you will find quite literally hundreds of local Spanish names for many of the palms. Since these are not in widespread cultivation outside of the area where the palms grow, the casual collector will probably never worry about its common name.

2. In most cases, I have avoided heavy dependence on local proliferate English names, especially from Australian authors. Many of these names are much restricted in their use. Many also apply to a large number of species not commonly grown in the United States. For example, Jones lists dozens of names for the many varieties of Calamus which are native to his country, and I have included only a few of these.

3. I have tried to represent variants of common names in order to make utilization of this list somewhat easier. One could argue that Betel palm and Betel nut palm are redundant representations of Areca catechu. But many other palms are represented by common names which are equally similar, but which apply to quite different palms (e.g. Chinese fan palm and Chinese windmill palm for Livistona sp. and Trachycarpus fortunei, respectively).

4. In some areas, common name designations consist of the genus or species name, employed with a modifier. For example, Tallier palm for Corypha talliera, Robinson's fan palm for Livistona robinsoniana, or Carpentaria palm for Carpentaria acuminata. In some cases, I have included some examples of this type, but only when there is very widespread use of the term, (e.g., Bismarck palm for Bismarckia nobilis).

I have used six primary sources in compiling this list, each name indicating the work from which the citation is taken, as follows: (G) Graff, (MC) McCurrach, (UD) Uhl and Dransfield, (BR) Blombery and Rodd, (S) Stevenson, and (J) Jones. Full citations of these sources appear at the end of the listing.

There will certainly be some disagreement on certain of the common names and their application to a given species of palm. This list is not meant to be a critical one; rather it is a collection of terms unmodified from their use by the various authors. There may also be some inconsistencies; but "to err is human", etc.

The List of Common Names

Acai palm (J) Euterpe oleracea

Adonidia (BR) Veitchia merrilli
(recently changed back to Adonidia merrilli)

African bamboo palm (J) Raphia vinifera

African oil palm (G) Elaeis guineensis

African palmyra palm (J) Borassus aethiopum

African wine palm (G) Raphia vinifera

Alexander palm (G) Archontophoenix alexandrae

Alexander palm (G) Ptychosperma elegans

Alexandra palm (BR) Archontophoenix alexandrae

American cotton palm (J) Washingtonia filifera

American oil palm (UD) Elaeis oleifera

Andean wax palm (UD) Ceroxylon sp.

Ant rattan (UD) Korthalsia sp.

Areca palm (G) Areca sp.

Areca palm (G) Dypsis lutescens

Arikury palm (5) Syagrus schizophylla

Assai palm (G) Brahea edulis

Assai palm (UD) Euterpe sp.

Atherton palm (J) Laccospadix australasica

Australian cabbage palm (G) Livistona australis

Australian fan palm (G) Livistona australis

Australian fan palm (J) Licuala ramsayi

Bamboo palm (G) Chamaedorea erumpens

Bamboo palm (G) Rhapis excelsa

Bamboo palm (J) Chamaedorea microspadix

Barbel palm (MC) Acanthophoenix rubra

Barrel palm (G) Colpothrinax wrightii

Beguine palm (S) Drymophloeus beguini

Belmore sentry palm (BR) Howea belmoreana

Bermuda fan palm (J) Sabal bermudana

Betel nut palm (G) Areca catechu

Betel palm (BR) Areca catechu

Big mountain palm (J) Hedyscepe canturburyana

Bismarck palm (S) Bismarckia nobilis

Black fiber palm (G) Arenga pinnata

Black palm (UD) Normanbya normanbyi

Black sugar palm (S) Arenga pinnata

Blue hesper palm (BR) Brahea armata

Blue latan palm (J) Latania loddigesii

Blue palm (J) Sabal violacea

Blue palmetto (BR) Sabal minor

Blue palmetto (G) Rhapidophyllum hystrix

Blue palmetto (G) Sabal palmetto

Bomean sago palm (UD) Eugeissonia utilis

Bottle palm (G) Colpothrinax wrightii

Bottle palm (G) Hyophorbe americaulis

Bottle palm (G) Hyophorbe lagenicaulis

Brittle thatch palm (S) Thrinax microcarpus

Broom palm (UD) Coccothrinax sp.

Buccaneer palm (UD) Pseudophoenix vinifera

Buccaneer palm (UD) Pseudophoenix sargentii

Bull thatch palm (J) Sabal aresana

Bungalow palm (BR) Archtontophoenix cunninghamiana

Buri palm (S) Polyancrococos caudescens

Buniti palm (UD) Mauritius sp.

Bush palmetto (G) Sabal minor

Butterfly palm (G) Dypsis lutescens

Cabada palm (UD) Dypsis cabadae

Cabbage palm (G) Sabal palmetto

Cabbage palmetto (G) Sabal palmetto

Cabbage tree (G) Sabal palmetto

Canary date palm (G) Phoenix canariensis

Canary Island date palm (G) Phoenix canariensis

Cane palm (G) Calamus sp.

Cane palm (G) Dypsis lutescens

Caranday palm (BR) Copernicia alba

Caranday palm (UD) Trithrinax sp.

Caribbean royal palm (BR) Roystonea oleracea

Carnauba wax palm (BR) Copernicia prunifera

Central Australian fan palm (BR) Livistona mariae

Ceylon date palm (MC) Phoenix zeylanica

Chamaerops excelsa (old usage) Trachycarpus fortunei

Cherry palm (UD) Pseudophoenix vinifera

Chilean wine palm (G) Jubaea chilensis

Chinese fan palm (G) Latania sp.

Chinese fan palm (G) Livistona chinensis

Chinese windmill palm (liD) Trachycarpus fortunei

Chonta palm (UD) Juania sp.

Christmas palm (G) Veitchia merrillii

Chusan palm (UD) Trachycarpus fortunei

Cliff date (G) Phoenix rupicola

Climbing chamaedorea (J) Chamaedorea elatior

Clumping fishtail palm (S) Caryota mitis

Clustered fishtail palm (G) Caryota mitis

Coco de mer (MC) Lodoicea maldivica

Coco verde (J) Syagrus pseudococos

Coconut palm (G) Cocos nucifera

Cocos australis Butia capitata

Cocos plumosa Syagrus romanzoffianum

Cohune palm (UD) Attalea cohune

Collinia elegans (BR) Chamaedorea elegans

Coquito palm (BR) Jubaea chilensis

Corkscrew palmetto (S) Sabal etonia

Corojo palm (MC) Acrocomia mexicana

Coyure palm (UD) Aiphanes acanthophylla

Cuban belly palm (S) Gastrococos crispa

Cuban petticoat palm (S) Copernicia macroglossa

Cuban royal palm (G) Roystonea regia

Curly palm (G) Howea belmoreana

Date palm (G) Phoenix dactylifera

Date-sugar palm (S) Phoenix sylvestris

Desert fan palm (G) Washingtonia filifera

Dhoum palm (G) Hyphaene thebaica

Double coconut (MC) Lodoicea maldivica

Doum palm (G) Hyphaene thebaica

Dwarf fan palm (J) Livistona muelleri

Dwarf palmetto (G) Sabal minor

Dwarf royal palm (J) Veitchia merrilli

East African doum palm (BR) Hyphaene compressa

East Indian wine palm (G) Phoenix sylvestris

European fan palm (G) Chamoerops humilis

Everglades palm (G) Acoelorraphe wrightii

Fan palm (G) Chamaerops, Coccothrinax, Washingtonia

Feather duster palm (G) Rhopalostylis sapida

Fern rhapis (G) Rhapis flabelliformis

Fiji fan palm (G) Pritchardia pacifica

Finger palm (J) Rhapis multifida

Fishtail lawyer cane (BR) Calamus caryotoides

Fishtail palm (G) Caryota sp.

Florida silver palm (S) Coccothrinax argentata

Florida thatch palm (BR) Thrinax radiata

Florida thatch palm (G) Thrinax parviflora

Flour palm (J) Phoenix farinifera

Footstool palm (BR) Livistona rotundifolia

Formosa palm (J) Arenga engleri

Fountain palm (G) Livistona chinensis

Foxtail palm (UD) Wodyetia bifurcata

Franceschi palm (MC) Brahea elegans

Gebang palm (BR) Corypha elata

Giant fishtail palm (J) Caryota no

Giant mountain fishtail palm (J) Caryota maxima

Gingerbread palm (G) Hyphaene thebaica

Golden feather palm (G) Dypsis lutescens

Good luck palm (G) Chamaedorea elegans

Gru Gru palm (G) Acrocomia totai

Guadalupe palm (G) Brahea edulis

Guano palm (BR) Copernicia glabrescens

Hair palm (G) Chamaerops humilis

Hesper palm (J) Brahea sp.

Hispaniolan silver palm (S) Coccothrinax argentea

Hog palm (UD) Hyospathe concinna

Horn palm (UD) Iriartea sp.

Hurricane palm (G) Ptychosperma macarthuri

Hurricane palm (MC) Dictyosperma album

India date palm (G) Phoenix sylvestris

Iron thatch palm (J) Thrinax parviflora

Ivory cane palm (J) Pinanga kuhlii

Ivory nut palm (G) Phytelephas macrocarpa

Ivory nut palm (UD) Metroxylon sp.

Ivory palm (UD) Phytelephas sp.

Ivory palm (UD) Palandra aequatorialis

Jaggary palm (BR) Caryota urens

Jamaican thatch palm (S) Thrinax excelsa

Jata palm (BR) Copernicia rigida

Jelly palm (G) Butia capitata

Jellybean palm (UD) Synechanthus sp.

Joey palm (J) Johannesteijsmannia sp.

Kafir palm (UD) Jubaeopsis caffra

Kentia palm (G) Howea sp.

Kepang palm (UD) Pholidocarpus macrocarpus

Key palm (G) Thrinax microcarpa

Key palm (UD) Thrinax sp.

King palm (UD) Archontophoenix sp.

Lady palm (G) Rhapis excelsa

Large lady palm (G) Rhapis excelsa

Lata palm (S) Bactris major

Lawyer cane (BR) Calamus australis

Licuala palm (UD) Licuala sp.

Licury palm (UD) Syagrus coronata

Lipstick palm (BR) Cyrtostachys renda

Little lady palm (G) Rhapis excelsa (?)

Llume palm (MC) Gaussia princeps

Lontar palm (BR) Borassus flabellifer

Loulu hiwa palm (BR) Pritchardia martii

Loulu palm (BR) Pritchardia sp.

Macarthur feather palm (G) Ptychosperma macarthuri

Macaw palm (BR) Aiphanes erosa

Macaw palm (S) Acrocomia aculeata

Majestic palm (J) Ravenea rivularis

Majesty palm (UD) Ravenea rivularis

Malagasy palm (S) Dypsis madagascariensis

Manac palm (MC) Calyptronoma swarztii

Mangrove date palm (J) Phoenix paludosa

Mangrove palm (J, UD) Nypa fruticans

Manila palm (G) Veitchia merrilli

Maya palm (UD) Gaussia maya

Mazari palm (S) Nannorrhops ritchiana

Metallic (metal) palm (J) Chamaedorea metallica

Mexican blue palm (G) Brahea armata

Mexican fan palm (G) Washingtonia robusta

Mexican palmetto (BR) Sabal mexicana

Mexican silver thatch palm (J) Coccothrinax readii

Millstream palm (BR) Livistona alfredii

Miniature date palm (G) Phoenix roebelenii

Miniature fan palm (G) Rhapis excelsa

Miraguama (J) Coccothrinax miraguama

Monkey cap palm (UD) Manicaria sp.

Moreche palm (UD) Mauritius sp.

Mountain cabbage (UD) Prestoea montana

Mountain fishtail palm (J) Caryota obtusa

Mountain palm (G) Euterpe globosa

Neanthe bella (G) Chamaedorea elegans

Necklace palm (J) Chamaedorea geonomiformis

Needle palm (G) Rhapidophyllum hystrix

Nihau palm (G) Rhopalostylis sapida

Nipah palm (UD) Nypa fruticans

Norfolk palm (UD) Rhopalostylis baueri

Northern Kentia palm (J) Gronophyllum ramsayi

Old man palm (S) Coccothrinax crinita

Olive palm (S) Drymophloeus olivaeformis

Overtop palm (J) Syagrus amara

Overtop palm (MC) Rhyticocos amara

Pacaya palm (J) Chamaedorea tepejilote

Palmetto (G) Sabal palmetto

Palmetto palm (G) Sabal palmetto

Palmetto thatch (G) Thrinax parviflora

Palmyra palm (G) Borassus flabellifer

Paradise palm (G) Howea sp.

Parlor palm (G) Chamaedorea elegans

Paurotis palm (BR) Acoelorraphe wrightii

Peaberry palm (BR) Thrinax morrisii

Peach palm (G) Bactris gasipaes

Peach palm (G) Thrinax sp.

Petticoat palm (G) Copernicia macroglossa

Petticoat palm (G) Washingtonia filifera

Piassaba palm (MC) Attalea funifera

Piassava palm (UD) Leopoldinia sp.

Piccabeen palm (BR) Archtontophoenix cunninghamiana

Pig nut palm (G) Hyophorbe sp.

Pigmy date palm (G) Phoenix roebelenii

Pimento palm (UD) Schippia concolor

Pinang palm (IJD) Nenga sp.

Pinang palm (UD) Pinanga sp.

Pondoland palm (UD) Jubaeopsis caffra

Porcupine palm (G) Rhapidophyllum hystrix

Potato chip palm (J) Chamaedorea tuerckhemii

Princess palm (G) Dictyosperma sp.

Puerto Rican hat palm (G) Sabal causiarum

Queen palm (G) Butia capitata

Queen palm (G) Syagrus romanzoffianum

Queensland black palm (BR) Normanbya normanbyi

Raffia palm (G) Raphia farinifera

Rattan palm (G) Calamus sp.

Rattan palm (UD) Daemonorops sp.

Red latan palm (BR) Latania lontoroides

Redneck palm (J) Dypsis leptocheilos

Reed rhapis (G) Rhapis humilis

Ribbon fan palm (J) Livistona decipiens

Ribbon palm (G) Livistona decipiens

Rio Grande palmetto (S) Sabal mexicana

Rock palm (MC) Brahea dulcis

Roebelini palm (G) Pheonix roebelenii

Rootspine palm (UD) Crysophila sp.

Rotan palm (UD) Daemonorops sp.

Rotan palm (UD) Calamus sp.

Royal palm (G) Roystonea sp.

Ruffle palm (G) Aiphanes caryotifolia
(now Aiphanes aculeata)

Ruffle palm (J) Aiphanes aculeata

Sagisi palm (UD) Heterospathe elata

Sago palm (G) Metroxylon sp.

Sagu palm (UD) Metroxylon sp.

Salak palm (UD) Salacca zalacca

San Jose Hesper palm (BR) Brahea brandegeei

Sand palm (5) Allogoptera arenaria

Satake palm (5) Satakentia liukiuensis

Savannah palm (BR) Sabal mauritiiformis

Saw cabbage (G) Acoelorraphae wrightii

Scrub palmetto (G) Sabal etonia

Scrub palmetto (G) Sabal minor

Seaforthia (G) Ptyschosperma sp.

Seaforthia elegans (BR) Archontophoenix cunninghamiana

Sealing wax palm (UD) Cyrtostachys renda

Seamberty palm (G) Coccothrinax sp.

Senegal date palm (G) Phoenix reclinata

Sentry palm (G) Howea forsteriana

Serdang palm (UD) Pholidocarpus sp.

Serdant (1) Livistona saribus

Sierra palm (5) Gaussia princeps

Silver date palm (J) Phoenix sylvestris

Silver palm (G) Coccothrinax argentata

Silvery rootspine palm (5) Cryosophila argentea

Silvery thatch palm (5)Thrinax microcarpus

Sinaloa hesper palm (J) Brahea aculeata

Skyduster (J) Washingtonia robusta

Skyduster (J) Manicaria sp.

Slender lady palm (BR) Rhapis humilis

Solitaire palm (G) Ptychosperma elegans

Sonoran palmetto (J) Sabal uresana

South American royal palm (G) Roystonea oleracea

Spear palm (J) Balaka microcarpa

Spindle palm (G) Hypophorbe verschaffeltii

Spine palm (G) Aiphanes caryotifolia

Spiny club palm (G) Bactris gasipaes

Spiny fiber palm (J) Trithrinax acanthocoma

Star-nut palm (MC) Astrocaryum aculeatum

Stilt palm (UD) Iriartea sp.

Stilt palm (UD) Socratea sp.

Sugar palm (G) Arenga pinnata

Syrup palm (G) Jubaea chilensis

Tagua nut palm (UD) Palandra aequatorialis

Tagua nut palm (UD) Phytelephas sp.

Talipot palm (G) Corypha umbraculifera

Texas palmetto (G) Sabal texana (mexicana)

Thatch palm (G) Coccothrinax sp.

Thatch palm (UD) Thrinax sp.

Thatchleaf palm (G) Howea forsteriana

Thread palm (G) Washingtonia robusta &
W. fi1ifera

Tiger palm (J) Pinanga maculata

Toddy palm (G) Borassus flabellifer

Toddy palm (G) Caryota urens

Triangle palm (5) Dypsis decaryi

True sago palm (UD) Metroxylon sp.

Tufted fishtail palm (G) Caryota mitis

Umbrella palm (BR) Hedyscepe canterburyana

Umbrella palm (G) Howea sp.

Vanuatu palm (J) Licuala grandis

Vegetable ivory palm (J) Hyphaene petersiana

Walking stick palm (G) Linospadix monostachya

Wanga palm (BR) Pigafetta filaris

Washington palm (G) Washingtonia sp.

Wax palm (G) Ceroxylon andicola

Weddell palm (G) Lytocaryum wedellianum

Weeping cabbage palm (J) Livistona decipiens

Wild date (G) Phoenix sylvestris

Windmill palm (G) Trachycarpus fortunei

Windmill palm (UD) Chamaerops humilis

Window palm (UD) Reinhardtia gracilis

Wine palm (G) Caryota urens

Wine palm (G) Jubaea chilensis

Wine palm (J) Raphia hookeri

Yagua palm (UD) Attalea macrocarpa

Yatay palm (UD) Butia yatay

Yellow butterfly palm (G) Dypsis lutescens

Yellow latan palm (BR) Latania verschaffeltii

Yellow palm (G) Dypsis lutescens

Yellow princess palm (5) Dictyosperma aureum

Zombi palm (UD) Zombia antillarum

References:

Blombery, Alec and Tony Rodd, Palms of the World, Angus and Robertson, North Ryde, NSW, Australia, 1982.

Graf, Alfred Byrd, Exotica, Third Edition, Roehrs and Co., Rutherford, NJ. 1974.

Jones, David L., Palms Throughout the World, Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, D.C. 1995.

McCurrach, James C., Palms of the World, Dale King Publishers, Globe, AZ. 1960.

Stevenson, George S., Palms of South Florida (Privately printed, 1974, as a guide to the palms of Fairchild Gardens).

Uhl, Natalie, and John Dransfield, Genera Palmarum, Allen Press, Lawrence, KS. 1987.

* This article was originally published in the Bulletin of the Palm Society of South Texas and is reprinted here with permission from the author/editor.

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