When identifying the species of a member of the palm family, the shape of the leaves (also known as “fronds”) is an important and commonly considered factor.
There are four basic forms that are characteristic of palm leaves: pinnate, palmate, bipinnate and entire. The most common are Pinnate and Palmate, but there are two others that also appear in the palm family, although rarely.
- Pinnate leaves are often known as “feather palms”, and are the most common in the palm family. These are some characteristics of this type:
- Fronds are divided into leaflets
- Leaflets are attached to a single leaf axis (similar to a feather)
- Pinnate leaves vary widely in size, as small as a foot and as long as 75 feet
- The pinnate palm leaves of the Raphia regalis hold the World Record for longest leaf in the world
- The world’s most commonly used economic palms are pinnate (Coconut Palm, African Oil Palm, Date Palm, Betel Nut Palm, and Pejibaye Palm)
- Palmate leaves belong to the trees commonly known as fan palms. They have the following traits:
- Fronds have extended leaf parts which are circular or semi-circular
- The leaf parts are divided into segments and radiate out from the point where they are attached to the petiole (the stalk that attaches the leaf to the stem)
- Size-wise, palmate leaves vary in size from the size of the palm of your hand, to a maximum of 5 meters across
- Bipinnate leaves are a rare palm frond type. Here’s how to recognize one:
- Leaf structure is similar to the feather palm, but these are divided in two.
- They resemble a fishtail
- Individual fronds can be as long as 4 meters and as wide as 3 meters.
- Entire leaves are also rare in the palm family. Here’s what makes them unique:
- They have a basic leave structure that is similar to pinnate leaves except that they are simple and undivided
- Only five palm genera have species with this type of leaf
- The largest and most beautiful is the diamond-shaped leaf of Johannesteijsmannia magnifica (pictured above, and also featured in the Merwin Palm Collection).
To learn more about the wonders of palm trees, have a look at our Palm Facts archive.
To search the Merwin Palm Collection’s new online database, click here.
If you are interested in supporting the stewardship of the Merwin Palm Collection and the continued outreach and education activities of The Merwin Conservancy, please consider making a donation here.