Hawaii is the world’s largest island chain, but only seven of its 132 islands are inhabited.
Long before the first humans set foot on the islands, they were covered in vast forests of palm trees.
These weren’t the coconut palms or the dwarf date palms that thrive today – they were imported by Polynesian immigrants sometime between the 4th and 7th centuries CE.
The palms that dominated these volcanic islands were the Loulu palms. There are around 29 different species of the Loulu palm, about 19 of which are native to Hawaii.
Unfortunately, many native palms in Hawaii are now endangered, while many imported species continue to flourish.
Nevertheless, these popular, low-maintenance plants are excellent standalone trees that make good focal points in small gardens, parks, and lining the busy streets of Honolulu’s capital.
- 10 Types of Palm trees in Hawaii
- Interesting Facts about Hawaii Palm Trees
10 Types of Palm trees in Hawaii
#1 Loulu Palms
There are around 24 species of Loulu palm in Hawaii, ranging from the diminutive Pritchardia minor to the 130-foot giant known as the Pritchardia schattaueri.
Although there is a lot of diversity in the Loulu palm species, each one is a type of fan palm with round, deeply pleated leaves.
Each palm belonging to the genus pritchardia grows in a different location. Some of these species are “single island endemics” so found only on one island in the entire Hawaiian chain.
The Maui Pritchardia, for example, grows only on East Maui, while the Pritchardia remota is only found on the craggy, uninhabited island of Nihoa.
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The two most common types of Loula trees growing in Hawaii today aren’t even indigenous.
Both the Pritchardia thurstonii and Pritchardia pacifica were introduced to Hawaii from the South Pacific and have adapted well to dry coastal locations.
The native palm trees in Hawaii are currently under threat, primarily from animals that have been introduced to the area over the years.
Pigs and rats pose a danger as they eat the seeds of the palm tree, while deets, goats, and cattle all each the immature plants, destabilizing the natural population.
#2 Coconut Palms
Throughout the islands of Hawaii, coconut palms sway gently in the breeze, casting 100-foot shadows over the colorful beaches and adding a more regal look to the coastline.
Yet, as innocuous as they appear with their graceful crows of sprawling green fronds and clusters of yellow flowers, coconuts kill more people each year than sharks!
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Although coconuts aren’t native to the Hawaiian islands, they have been there for a very long time.
It’s thought that they were introduced sometime during prehistoric times when the Early Polynesian voyagers first visited the islands.
The coconut palm relished Hawaii’s rich volcanic soil and warm climate, and coconut groves soon popped up all over the islands.
Unfortunately, there are only a few of these historic groves left and they include the famous grove on Molokai in Kapuaiwa and the Pu’uhonua O Honaunau site on the Big Island where visitors can view the trees while avoiding any falling fruit.
The coconut palm is widely utilized throughout Hawaii and not only for its culinary prowess, but you find plenty of dishes featuring either the meat, milk, or oil of the fruits.
Hawaiians also used the husks of coconuts to make a type of coarse rope called sennit, while other parts of the tree were fashioned into everything from brooms and buttons to toys and musical instruments.
#3 Areca Palm
The areca palm originated in Madagascar, so it enjoys Hawaii’s tropical climate and flourishes in its rich, volcanic soil. Areca palms are affordable and widely available.
They also grow quickly, adding an extra two feet to their height every season. Areca trees are popular landscaping trees that provide shade and privacy in residential areas.
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Once planted, the areca palm establishes its roots quickly and reaches full size in less than 10 years.
Areca palms do best in bright, indirect light as direct sunlight can burn the leaves. They are relatively shaded tolerant, especially in well-draining soil.
Also known as the bamboo palm, the areca palm tree grows to between 12 to 30 feet tall unless it’s grown as an indoor plant, in which case it will usually only reach around 8 feet in height.
Areca trees are popular indoor plants because they can clean the air.
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A study on the use of interior landscape plants for indoor pollution abatement found that the bamboo palm is one of the most effective at “reducing indoor air pollutants.”
Areca palms also produce around a liter of water every 24 hours, making them excellent humidifiers.
Increasing the humidity in your home can reduce irritation caused by dryness and alleviate the symptoms of flu, common colds, and allergies.
#4 Manila Palm
The manila palm originated in the Phillippines and has acquired a long list of alternative names as it’s traveled around the world.
Its official name is the Adonidia merrillii, but it’s more commonly known as either the dwarf royal or Christmas palm.
Its Christmas association comes from the fact that it produces bright scarlet fruits that usually ripen around Christmastime, making it look as though they’ve been decorated in celebration.
Although not a native palm species, the manila palm has adapted well to life in Hawaii and can be seen lining the streets of many of the area’s towns and cities.
It’s also a popular landscaping palm and is “one of the most commonly planted ornamental palms in the world.”
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#5 Rhapis Palm
The Rhapis or lady palm is a small clustering palm native to Taiwan.
There are several different species of Rhapis palms, the largest of which have been “popularly used in the Hawaiian landscape.”
Dwarf varieties are also becoming increasingly popular as potted and indoor plants, although their high prices can be prohibitive.
Although the slow-growing lady palm only grows approximately 8 to 12 inches a year, its roots can be invasive if not controlled.
In a moist climate, dwarf lady palms are also prone to fungal infections that can lead to severe leaf spot problems.
Ideally, lady palms need either full or partial shade and perform best in well-drained soil.
Despite that, these small, elegant palm trees are surprisingly robust. They can survive droughts, high winds, and even frost.
#6 Golden Cane Palm
A type of areca palm, the golden cane palm is indigenous to the rainforests of Madagascar.
It was introduced to Hawaii sometime during the 1950s and has been widely naturalized on several islands, as well as in California, Florida, and much of South America.
This multi-stemmed, clumping palm has pinnate fronds that emerge from the base of the plant before elegantly arching like a pair of butterfly wings.
The overall appearance of this palm is light and airy, making it a popular choice of indoor palm.
#7 Fishtail Palm
The fishtail palm belongs to a genus of palms known as Caryota. There are around 13 species of fishtail palm, some of which originated in southeast Asia, and others in northern Australia.
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The fishtail palm gets its common name from the unusual shape of its fronds which some say “resemble the tails of dead fish,” and others describe as being “reminiscent of the graceful caudal fin of a goldfish.”
Although popular as an indoor plant, fishtail palm trees aren’t particularly easy to grow.
Not only do they need bright, strong light, but they also have a natural desire to grow into a clump of 20-foot-high trees, which isn’t viable in a standard residential property.
In Hawaii, you’re more likely to find the fishtail palm in one of the tropical forests on the outskirts of the cities.
Hawaii’s most common Caryota species include the fast-growing Caryota urens, the Caryota mitis, and the eye-catching Caryota gigas.
#8 MacArthur Palm
This small, attractive palm originated in Queensland, Australia but has since traveled the world, establishing itself as “a widely grown and popular palm species.”
MacArthur palms are quickly spreading and grow in clusters. They don’t get particularly tall but do add a tropical look to your yard.
Unfortunately, the fruits of the MacArthur Palm are “dispersed by both native and alien birds,” enabling the species to escape cultivation and flourish in the wild.
Although endangered in Australia, the MacArthur palm is considered a potential risk in the Pacific Islands, where it could potentially threaten natural ecosystems.
#9 Foxtail Palm
The Wodyetia bifurcata, or foxtail palm, is also from Queensland but remains comparatively rare in Hawaii, unlike the MacArthur palm.
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Even in Australia, the foxtail palm is endemic to a very small area within the Cape Melville National Park.
Foxtails resemble manila palms but yield large, orange fruits about the size of a duck egg instead of producing scarlet berries.
As the name suggests, the fronds of the foxtail palm are long and fluffy like the tail of a fox.
Up until 1978, palm specialists were unaware of the foxtail palm’s existence.
Then, it was brought to their attention by an Aboriginal man called Wodyetia and has since become a popular plant amongst landscape architects and horticulturalists.
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#10 Red Sealing Wax Palm
Named for the bright red stems of its fronds, the red sealing wax palm is also known as the lipstick palm.
This elegant species makes an eye-catching addition to any landscape whatever name you give it.
As a mature tree, the red sealing wax palm loves sunshine but requires at least partial shade as a juvenile.
Although the red sealing wax palm is “one of the most beautiful and sought-after palms in the world,” it’s not particularly common in Hawaii, probably due to lack of availability.
It’s not an easy plant to grow either, as it requires high humidity, well-drained soil, and shelter from the wind.
The red sealing wax palm originally came from the swamps of Borneo, Malaysia, Thailand, and Sumatra, so it’s not at all drought resistant and requires frequent watering.
Interesting Facts about Hawaii Palm Trees
How Tall is a Palm Tree in Hawaii?
Indigenous Hawaiian palm trees can grow as tall as 130 feet. Even the so-called Pritchardia minor grows well over 10 feet tall in Hawaii, even though it rarely reaches such heights in other locations.
The smallest palm tree in the world is the Dypsis minuta, which rarely exceeds 20 inches in height.
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Why do Palm Trees in Hawaii have Holes?
Many palm trees have holes clearly visible in their trunks. Birds or insects usually cause these, and occasionally by lightning.
Birds and bugs generally leave healthy palm trees alone but are frequently attracted to those that are already compromised by a fungal infection.
Are Palm Trees Native to Hawaii?
Only palms belonging to the genus pritchardia are native to Hawaii. Loula palms are indigenous to Hawaii and live for around 70 to 80 years.
All the other species seen lining the streets and decorating the coastline were either introduced by the early Polynesian settlers or brought in later on.
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How Fast do Palm Trees Grow in Hawaii?
Some palm tree species grow exceptionally fast, including the Areca palms which increase in height by about 30″ per year.
Other species are slow-growing, like the lady palm which rarely grows more than 12″ in a year.
If kept as an indoor plant, the lady palm rarely manages to put on more than 8″ a year.
How Old do Palm Trees Get in Hawaii?
In a tropical environment, most palm trees will live for anywhere between 70 and 100 years, although the areca palm has a much shorter life expectancy and rarely survives beyond 40 years old.
There are palm trees all over the Hawaiian islands, but the ones that actually belong there are struggling to survive.
Loulu palms are attractive and easy to grow, but they struggle to contend with the non-indigenous threats posed by pigs, rats, goats, and deer.
Many non-indigenous species thrive in the islands’ tropical climate and rich soils. While most palm trees need light and grow better in a bright area, only a few prefer direct sunlight.
The best palm species for the average Hawaiian garden include those that are shade tolerant, like the lady palm, and low maintenance species like the manila palm.
Nicky is a British adventurer and animal lover who spends her time exploring the natural world and writing about her experiences. Whether on horseback, underwater, running, hiking or just standing with a fishing rod in hand, she embraces everything her adopted home of South Africa has to offer.