Palm trees often welcome us somewhere “tropical” – whether it’s in our imagination, on vacation or, if you live where temperatures are warm year-round, right in your back yard. It makes sense: Palms are naturally found in tropical, sub-tropical and warm-temperature regions of both hemispheres. Some are rainforest denizens and others desert dwellers. Only about 12 species are native to the US.

Seashore palm

The salt-tolerant seashore palm is a good choice for coastal landscapes.

Photo Credit: Carol Cloud Bailey

Pindo palm

The pindo palm has attractive fishhook-shaped leaves.

Photo Credit: Grandiflora

Lady palm

Elegant lady palm works well in the landscape, as well as in containers.

Photo Credit: James H. Schutte

Dwarf palmetto palm

A cold-hardy, Southeast native, dwarf palmetto is a nice stemless palm for small landscapes.

Photo Credit: James Burghardt

Thatch palm

Its large, fan-shaped leaves make Florida thatch palm an attractive addition to small landscapes or container gardens.

Photo Credit: Carol Cloud Bailey

Voodoo palm

The dense, sharp trunks of voodoo palm offer texture and interest.

Photo Credit: Carol Cloud Bailey

While native plants are wise choices for a landscape, there are spaces where non-native and non-invasive palms may work well. Regardless of what you pick, the important key is to match a plant’s growth requirements with your regional elements and site conditions. In California, there’s nothing more stunning than a row of Washington palms, but in the southeastern US, this stately tree is easy pickings for hurricanes.

When carefully selected, palms are great versatile elements in the landscape. Many species work beautifully when used in groups, clusters, barriers or borders either in single- or multiple-species plantings. Here are 10 of my favorite landscape-worthy palms (native and non-native). All are tough and tolerate a wide range of conditions, and they grow in a size range suitable for urban and suburban spaces:

Seashore palms (Allagoptera arenaria) are great plants for urban and coastal landscapes, usually growing only 6 or 8 feet tall by 15 feet wide. They thrive in full sun, sandy poor soils and are among the most drought- and salt-tolerant palms. Slow-growing when young, seashore palms produce edible fruit and make good barriers and screens.

Pindo or jelly palm (Butia capitata) is one of the most cold-hardy palms around. It’s not picky about soil as long as it’s well-drained, and it’s drought- and salt-tolerant. Pretty blue-green leaves shaped like a fishhook top the solitary trunk, making pindo palm a perfect choice as a specimen plant. Its common name “jelly palm” comes from the plant’s copious amount of edible, sweet fruit.

European fan palm (Chamaerops humilis) is the only palm native to Europe. This beautiful plant can be clumping or single-stalked in form. Its fan leaves have long stalks armed with wicked spines. The growth is variable and slow; some forms grow only to 5 feet, others eventually reach 15 feet. This cold-tolerant palm is adaptable to a wide variety of soils and is extremely drought-tolerant, though it looks best with occasional waterings.

Beautiful and dangerous is an irresistible combination even in palm trees. The lovely needle palm (Rhapidophyllum hystrix) is a great choice for shady landscapes. It has fan-shaped leaves, not much of a trunk and 4- to 10-inch, dark brown to black needles and fibers that protrude from the crown. Needle palm is cold- and drought-tolerant. It prefers organic moist soils but is adaptable to poor soil conditions. Though growth is best with regular watering, the plant is drought-tolerant once well established.

Elegant lady palm (Rhapis excelsa) is a beauty for the shady landscape or patio container, and it makes a nice houseplant palm. It’s a clumping plant that slowly spreads by underground runners and rarely grows more than 8-10 feet tall. It produces numerous thin canes covered with dark brown fibers that are topped with a few fan leaves.

Native to the southeastern US, the slow-growing dwarf palmetto (Sabal minor) is a diminutive, cold-hardy, stemless palm. It’s great in beds as a groundcover or clumped in borders, and it works well as a foundation plant or specimen in very small landscapes. Dwarf palmetto is undemanding in care. It’s drought-, shade- and cold-tolerant, as well as resistant to pests.

Saw palmetto (Serenoa repens), a true palm, is not on everyone’s list of favorites, but I like this tough native. It’s found throughout the southeastern US and grows just about anywhere. It can’t be beat as a barrier to repel intruders – the sawlike leaf stems will cut anyone who tries to pass. Saw palmetto makes a great groundcover, or try it as an accent plant or foundation planting. It also works well clumped in borders or in combination with other palms and pines.

Windmill palm (Trachycarpus fortunei) is a hardy plant from China that withstands frost, light freezes and snow. Slender and graceful, its fiber-covered trunk eventually reaches 40 feet, but getting to that mature height takes many years; most windmill palms in the landscape range from 15-25 feet. The plant is adaptable to most situations as long as the soil is well-drained. The lovely fan-shaped leaves make a nice silhouette. Plant windmill palm in groups for the best effect.

Florida thatch palm (Thrinax radiata) has a single trunk and a canopy of 12-20 large, fan-shaped leaves. It grows very slowly and can reach anywhere from 6-20 feet tall in the landscape. Also showy are its many small, white flowers borne on 3- to 4-foot stalks among the foliage, followed by white fruit. Florida thatch palm is a good choice for frost-free small gardens and containers. It looks best planted in groups.

One of the clumping varieties, voodoo palm (Zombia antillarum) provides lots of visual interest. Relatively slow-growing, this plant produces upright trunks clothed in fibrous leaf sheaths and rings of downward-pointing spines. It’s native to the dry lands of Hispañola and grows and looks best with adequate moisture. Voodoo palm tops out at about 10 feet tall and eventually spreads that wide. It’s most attractive when old leaves are removed and the dense trunks manage to show off its unusually sharp character.