Alabama has a hot and humid subtropical climate, with an average annual temperature of 64 Fahrenheit.
The southern part of the state is typically warmer, due to its proximity to the Gulf of Mexico, whilst the northern part is cooler due to its nearness to the Appalachian mountains.
Winters are calm and mild, and year-long precipitation is the norm for this humid state.
This means there are plenty of tropical-looking species you can plant in your yard in Alabama, which ranges from growing zones 7a to 9a.
With that in mind, let’s look at some types of palm trees you can grow in Alabama.
7 Palm Trees You Can Grow In Alabama
The saw palmetto is a small palm (Arecaceae family) native to the southern third of Alabama and often only grows between 3 and 6 feet tall. It can be found in dunes, river terraces, pinelands, and scrub forests. Its fibrous trunk is covered by old leaf bases.
The petiolate leaves are armed along the margin with fine teeth. The leaves themselves are plicate (fan-shaped and fold like a fan)The flowers are produced in panicles beneath the leaves and are small, whitish-green, bisexual, and fragrant. They appear on branches up to 3 ft long. The fruit is botanically classed as a drupe and is an important food source for black bears, white-tailed deers, and other animals.
Owing to its native range, the saw palmetto is salt and drought tolerant once established.
Other Common Names: Scrub Palm, Silver Saw Palmetto Palm
Growing Zones: 8-11
Average Size at Maturity: 2-7 ft tall and 4-10 ft wide as a shrub, or 20-25 ft tall trained as a single tree.
Flowering Season: Late spring to midsummer.
The Windmill palm is extremely popular due to its ability to withstand temperatures as low as 5 Fahrenheit. This has made it popular to plant in USDA zones 7-11. Native to central and eastern China, the windmill palm, and has a single, slender trunk that’s usually 8-10 inches in diameter. The trunk is covered with a mat of coarse, brown fiber, and is slightly thinner at the base.
The leaves are palmate and sword-like, measuring 4 ft in diameter. They range from dark green to yellow-green in color, with a silvery hue on the underside. The leaves tend to grow more upwards than outwards as is common on many other palms, making them a good choice for people with limited space.
The windmill palm is dioecious, with male and female flowers borne on different plants. Early summer sees the male plants produce large plumes of yellow flowers and greenish ones on the females. These female flowers then transform into bluish-black fruits with a diameter of about ½ an inch. The fruit ripens in mid-fall and is not considered edible.
The windmill palm is easy to grow, does best with moist, free-draining soil, and has a slow-to-moderate growth rate.
Other Common Names: Chinese Windmill Palm, Chusan Palm.
Growing Zones: 7-11
Average Size at Maturity: 10-20 ft tall 5-10 ft wide.
Flowering Season: Early summer.
The Mexican fan palm is native to the southwestern United States, and has reportedly naturalized in areas of the southeast as well. It’s favored by those wanting a finished look to their yards quickly. According to Palmco, they’re hardy down to 5 Fahrenheit.
Care of Mexican fan palms (or their close relative Washingtonia filifera) depends on your aesthetic preference. In the wild, these palms retain their old leaves in long skirts that resemble an old man’s beard. This reportedly helps protect the plant from desert extremes of its native range. Many choose to clean the old fronds regularly. For a clean look, some even ‘shave,’ the trees and remove the spiky ‘boots,’ to reveal the smooth trunk.
Other Common Names: Mexican Washingtonia, Skyduster.
Growing Zones: 8B-11
Average Size at Maturity: 70-100ft tall and 10ft wide.
Flowering Season: Long and pendulous inflorescence in the spring to summer.
The pindo palm is known for its cold-hardiness, blue-green fronds, and edible yellow fruit that’s used to make jelly. A native to Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay, the pindo palm’s gray trunk is covered with the bases of old leaves. One peculiar feature of the pindo palm is that there’s no crownshaft, and the leaves emerge straight out of the trunk.
The feather-like or pinnate leaves are a shade of green-blue, 5-10 ft long, and with 80-150 leaflets that are 20-26 inches long. These are supported by 3-4 ft long petioles with spines on both edges. The end of spring sees the Pindo palm produce small, orange/red/yellow flowers growing in clusters on 3-4 ft long inflorescence.
The flowers are monoecious (either male or female) but both sexes can be found on a single plant. They’re pollinated by the wind and insects. The bright orange fruits are known as pindo dates, hang in large clusters, and are about 1 inch in diameter. They ripen in the summertime and can be eaten fresh, made into wine, jams or jelly.
Pindo’s can tolerate temperatures down to 5 Fahrenheit, are slow to moderate growers, and need little in the way of maintenance. They can also tolerate saltwater, droughts, and clay or sandy soils.
Other Common Names: Jelly Palm, wine palm.
Growing Zones: 8a-10b
Average Size at Maturity: 10-20 ft tall and 10-15 ft wide.
Flowering Season: Spring.
The Queen palm is a palm that exudes a tropical sense of serenity. Its glossy green, feathery leaves, and smooth gray trunk with evenly spaced ringed leaf scars make it a unique looking palm for the AL, should you like in the south of the state and be able to grow it. They offer rich and flowing canopies, and after flowering, gorgeous clusters of orange/yellow fruit hang off the trunk.
Queen palms like a moist, rich, organic soil mix. Avoid planting in overly arid, or wet areas. On the whole, they’re easy palms to grow and require little care. Their growth rate will vary greatly, according to the specific conditions in which it’s planted.
Other Common Names: Cocos palm.
Growing Zones: 8b-11
Average Size at Maturity: 50-70ft tall and 20-30ft wide.
Flowering Season: Spring and summer
Although technically not a true palm, the European fan palm has become a popular landscaping element in recent years due to its cold hardiness. It’s a good choice if you’re looking for an understory cluster of palms. They provide an evergreen focal point, and due to their small size are suitable for smaller yards. Although they usually grow in clusters, you could also train into a single-trunked specimen.
This Mediterranean native grows in clumps from basal suckers, which lends it a shrubby look. The trunks are covered in brown, old leaf bases that can reach up to 9 inches in diameter. The leaves range from blue/green to green/grey in color. Small yellow flowers are produced in late spring, followed by green fruit that ripens brown and are 0-5 inches in diameter, and are inedible.
Other Common Names: Palmito, dwarf fan palm, Mediterranean fan palm.
Growing Zones: 7b-11
Average Size at Maturity: 5-10ft tall and 1-5ft wide.
Flowering Season: Late spring.
The foxtail palm has soared in popularity in recent years as a landscape plant in the warmer regions of the United States. The palm gets its name from the bushy fronds reminiscent of a fox’s tail. Their only requirement is to be in well-drained soil that’s not too acidic. They’re tolerant of salt and wind, so are a good landscape choice for those living near the seafront or other salt-prone areas.
They prefer some humidity, so should be planted near a fountain, or a pebble tray if your yard is on the dry side. Another benefit of the foxtail palm is it requires no pruning; the used leaves will fall off when ready. They are somewhat drought resistant, but their lush tropical appearance will be best maintained with regular watering. Mulching your trees will help them retain moisture.
The fruit of the foxtail palm is a bright showy red, and is about the size of a small tomato. Whilst not cold hardy for most AL, apart from perhaps the southern coastal areas, they can be grown in large containers and brought out once the threat of cold weather or frost has passed.
Other Common Names: Foxtail palm.
Growing Zones: 9B-11
Average Size at Maturity: 20-30 ft tall and 5-10ft wide.
Flowering Season: Blooms repeatedly.
Most people want their yard to look as lush as possible. For many, this involves tropical foliage. Fortunately, the humid subtropical climate of AL means you can readily achieve this look and the associated peace it brings by planting palm trees.
Whilst proximity to the Mexican Gulf gives those in the lower, coastal portion of the state more palm options, there are still plenty of choices for gardeners in the cooler, northern areas too.
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Thomas worked for a number of years as the head of plant propagation for a horticultural contractor taking care of many different species of ornamental trees & shrubs. He learned how to propagate certain endangered endemic species and has a love of permaculture, sustainability and conscious living. When Thomas isn’t hiking in nature he can be found playing music, reading a book, or eating fruit under a tree.