Coconut tree vs. Palm tree – Differences and Identification

Coconut trees are a type of palm trees that have many similarities, but not all palm trees produce coconuts.

The distinctive characteristics between a coconut tree and a palm tree can be confusing to many. Though there are several species of palm trees, only one type of species can bear coconuts. So, what’s the difference between coconut trees and palm trees?

Coconut trees are a type of palm tree that have many similarities, but not all palm trees produce coconuts. The main difference is in the leaves. Palm trees have fan-shaped leaves while coconut trees have wide leaves. In addition, coconut trees produce coconuts while palm trees produce palm oil.

There’s a wide variety of coconuts. Typically, coconut trees look familiar but vary in thickness and size. Most coconut trees have slender trunks and an average height of 80 feet. While the top is capped by the growth of fronds, the bases are usually thick.

Is a coconut tree a palm tree?

A coconut tree differs in so, many ways from a palm tree. Though both are palm trees, a palm tree doesn’t produce coconuts. Generally, a palm tree is a term that puts together all trees under the Palmaceae class. The class of trees under this context consists of 230 families and 3000 species.

All palm trees are identical in their leaves. They have a type of leaves called fronds. These leaves have a fan-like structure and shape that has sections growing outwards from a single point. Every palm species has a different length of leaves with some growing up to 10 feet.

Coconut tree vs. Palm tree – Differences

Coconut TreePalm Tree
Bear coconut fruitProduces palm oil
Wide shaped leavesFan-shaped leaves
Botanically, coconut trees are between 60-80 years. It is often referred to as a three-generation tree since it has the ability to support 3 Generations. Father children and grandchildren. However, it is usually slow and bears coconuts for between 6-10 years.Some palm trees last up to 150 years. On average, palm trees have a lifespan of between 7-8 decades. Meanwhile, the lifespan of a palm tree is dependent on the species. While some palms live more than a century, those grown in tropical surroundings live between 70 -100 years.
Are deep-rooted up to a diameter of 1cmRoots spread on the base up to 36 inches to give the palm tree stability.
Grows best in wet and hot tropical climates. This means they require adequate moisture and warmth to grow well.   Do better in warm tropical climatic conditions. Though hardy and suit various climatic conditions, they are easily affected by extremely cold temperatures, especially during winter.


Comparatively, coconut palms and palm trees grow in different climatic conditions. This contributes to the disparities in characteristics and features. While the coconut tree is known to produce coconut, palm trees exist in different types and sizes. Though palm trees belong to the same family they differ in several ways.

Despite a myriad of coconut trees, coconut palm is the only type of palm that produces coconuts.

Do coconuts grow on palm trees?

Despite palm trees belonging to the same family, only one species of palm tree bear coconuts. However, several species of coconut trees are in existence.

Cocos nucifera is the only type of palm species that produce coconuts. Others are known to produce palm oil and others are not related to coconuts. The lookalike nature of a palm and coconut tree makes people assume both produce coconuts. The fact is that there are two different species of palm tree.

What type of palm tree has coconuts?

Cocos nucifera palm species is the only type of palm tree that produces coconuts. This is the only surviving species of the genus coco. Further, there are two categories of coconut trees;

  • Tall coconut tree
  • Dwarf coconut tree

Within the two categories of coconut trees, there are several varieties of coconut trees. The trees are different depending on the locations they can be found. In that regard, the coconut produced by the trees varies in color, size, and shape.

This is dependent on the age and health of a coconut tree. On another twist, there are over 80 varieties of coconut trees in this category. Despite having only one species of the coconut tree, there are several different kinds of coconut-producing trees.

Starting with the taller coconut variety differs from the shorter variety in many ways. The taller version can cross-pollinate. This means it can share generic information with other trees.

That said, its flowers rely on pollination from other trees to reproduce. Hats are the reason why two types of palm trees are in existence (Tall, and the dwarf) but produce different coconuts.

Here’s a list of palm trees that produce palm trees:

  • West coast Tall coconut:  can grow in any type of soil and produces 80 coconuts annually
  • East coast Tall coconut – grows in sandy soil and bears 70 coconuts annually
  • Macapuno coconut – highly nutritious and grows in deserts
  • Malayan yellow dwarf coconut – a common dwarf coconut that produces the highest number of coconuts in the history of palm trees
  • Maypan coconut – resistant to cold and grows large-sized coconuts. It also stands for yellowing disease
  • King coconut – are in color and grow in clusters of 30.
  • Fiji dwarf coconut – they have long fronds and are highly resistant to disease. They are highly admired in various quarters.

How to identify a coconut tree

Photo by cherrybeans from istock

Coconut trees can be identified in many ways. Though coconut trees have a myriad of distinctive characteristics, they have common features that can easily be identified.

  • The columnar trunk is usually 15-17 feet long.
  • 4 feet wide feathery-shaped leaves
  • Fibrous covered fruit
  • They have a slender and textured trunk.
  • Most coconut tree species rise to a height of up to 80 feet.
  • The top is capped by the growth of fronds and the base is thick.

Palm tree identification

Photo by slpu9945 from istock

Though a coconut tree and a standard palm tree may have almost the same features, you can identify a palm tree through the following features.

  • Leaves have fan-like fronds
  • Some species have longer slender single trunks
  • Dwarf variety of palm trees have short fat palm trunks
  • Smaller palm trees have clustered trunks with 3-4 trunks growing together
  • Some dwarf palm trees have bushy pinnate fronds that pop out without any trunk
  • Some palm trees have smooth slender  trunk

None of these plants produce good palm tree wood that can be used for firewood.


Some types of palm trees have graying brown color while others have trunks covered in trunks. The unique aspect is that the dwarf and shorter palm versions are used by most households to grow in the compound.

The majority of those who grow palm trees in their yard prefer a shorter and dwarf version of the trees because of the shallow roots of palm trees.

The following are the common types of dwarf, bushy and small palms preferred by most households.

Pygmy Date Palm

This is a small-sized palm that doesn’t grow taller than 10ft. It can easily be identified through a single stem with bushy pinnate-shaped fronds. The tree is a common ornamental flowering tree ideal for subtropical landscaped gardens. Though the plant bears dates, the fruit is not as tasty as those that grow in taller palm trees.

Pindo Palm

Commonly known as jelly palm, the palm tree is a species of cold-hardy palms. They are usually slow in growth rate and can hit around 20ft when fully mature.

This indicates they are ideal for gardens that require shorter palm trees. The unique aspect of this species is that they grow in any type of soil and are tolerant of full sun.


Triangle Palm

Commonly known as Dypsis decaryi palm, it fits small to medium size palms that can be used for a small garden. One can identify the palm tree through the pinnate fronds that grow up to 8ft. An exciting feature about the fronds is that the leaves point at 120 degrees. This gives the palm tree a triangular shape at the cross-section. The ornamental type of palm tree is ideal for tropical gardens

Mediterranean dwarf  Palm

Commonly known as the Mediterranean palm tree, it is a species of flowering palm. it has clustered trunks which makes the palm tree look like a shrub. The palm tree grows in warm climates at an average height of 20ft. It’s valued for its ornamental outlook, cold-hardiness, and great colors.

Overall, palm trees look similar but differ in various ways.