There are nearly 2,800 species of palms in the world. Florida Royal Palm (Roystonea regia), also known as Cuban Royal Palm and Royal Palm, is native to southern Florida, Mexico, parts of Central America, and northern Caribbean islands. It is the national tree of Cuba and the largest palm in Florida.
This tree is a single-stemmed palm with a smooth grey-white trunk and about 15 pinnate leaves. The trunk is often swollen and bulging along part of its length. The bulge may be created during years where growing conditions are better or worse than average. Royal palms reach heights of 66 to 98 feet tall, with trunk diameters of 19 inches.
Each leaf can be up to 13 feet long. The base of each leaf forms a green sheath around the trunk. In young, rapidly growing trees, leaf scars are prominent along the stem, marking where leaves have fallen off. These scars could be called growth lines, but they do not indicate the age of the tree in years. Royal palms have the ability to easily release their leaves in strong winds, which helps prevent them from being toppled over by hurricanes.
Flowers form in inflorescences and are white with pink anthers. The fruit is spherical or elliptical in shape. It is green when immature and turns red, and then purplish-black as it matures.
Hurricanes Andrew (1992) and Wilma (2005) caused a lot of damage to Naples, Florida, toppling several large oak trees in the Conservancy of Southwest Florida Nature Center hammock. As a result, much of the hammock canopy was removed. Today there are many young royal palms growing where birds deposited seeds.
Royal palms need animals, and animals need royal palms: 1) Fruit is eaten by birds and bats, and palm seeds are dispersed. 2) Leaves serve as roosting sites for bats and frogs, which remove insects from the tree. 3) Honeybees and bats are attracted to the palm flowers for food, and pollinate the flowers.
People use royal palms in a variety of ways too: 1) The trees are planted as ornamentals. 2) Leaves are used for thatching and wood for construction timber. 3) Royal palm is a medicinal plant. The roots are used as a diuretic and for a treatment for diabetes. 4) The fruit is fed to livestock. 5) The seeds are used as a source of oil.
© Photographs and text by Susan Leach Snyder (Conservancy of Southwest Florida Volunteer).
Please report errors to Susan Snyder: firstname.lastname@example.org