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Coconut Tree VS Palm Tree (What’s the Difference?)

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Coconut trees appear extremely similar to palm trees. It’s not surprising that some people might confuse them. Palm trees are instantly recognizable in any tropical setting considering their iconic slender trunks and feathery foliage. Although coconut trees are technically palms as well, it’s important to remember that not any palm tree you see has the ability to bear coconut fruits. Let’s explore the key differences between coconut trees and palm trees to clear up any confusion.

1. What is a Palm Tree?

Palm Tree

The term “palm tree” is actually a generic one that refers to any tree that’s part of the large Palmaceae class of trees. It contains hundreds of species and different families of trees that can all be considered palm trees. They’re spread all around the world and are most easily identified by checking the characteristic shape of the leaves.




Palm trees feature fan-like fronds with a unique structure growing outward. Depending on the species, the leaves can reach impressive lengths, sometimes more than 7-8 feet. There’s a great variation when it comes to the look of the trunks as well, considering how certain palms feature thick and relatively short trunks while others boast thin and tall designs.

2. What is a Coconut Tree?

Coconut Tree

Although there’s a huge variety of palm trees in the Palmaceae class, it’s important to note that only a single species is capable of bearing coconuts. It’s called Cocos nucifera and it’s part of the palm tree family. This species stands out because it produces coconuts while other species of palm trees can only make palm oil despite similar looks. However, some types of palm trees are capable of producing other kinds of fruits such as dates or acai.




From this single type of palm tree that produces coconuts, we can further obtain two distinctive categories of coconut trees, tall and dwarf ones. Between these two categories, you can discover multiple varieties of coconut trees found in various locations. When it comes to coconut trees in the US, these palms can usually only be grown in Florida because they require extreme tropical humidity to survive.




Cocos nucifera trees are the most widely grown palm trees due to their delicious fruits. Coconuts have had an impressive number of uses ever since ancient times. Humans can enjoy the meat of coconuts but they can also process the fruits into coconut oil or extract the coconut water. In some parts of the world, coconuts can be used for more unusual applications such as architecture. Most commonly, however, coconuts are used in the skincare, medicine, and food industries.

3. Recognizing a Coconut Tree

Coconut Tree

We’ve established that a coconut tree is a type of palm tree. While looking for its characteristic fruit offers the best clue in terms of identification, it’s not always easy to differentiate between a coconut palm and other species of palm trees. Coconut trees take a few years before they become mature enough to produce fruit. That means it could be helpful to look for other distinctive characteristics to figure out whether you’re looking at a Cocos nucifera tree.

The trunk of a coconut tree can contribute to easier recognition. As opposed to typical palms, coconut trees feature lighter-toned trunks that are smoother and not as scaly. The trunks of coconut trees don’t usually grow perfectly vertical as they’re often bent or curled. Most types of coconut trees can reach tall heights of up to 100 feet but they’re usually maintained to retain a better shape, especially when used for landscaping.

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