5 Reasons New Orleans Has Palm Trees (Plus Growing Tips)

Palm leaf and sunny blue sky background

As you are probably aware, you cannot find trees like palm trees in all locations. Just like how a coniferous evergreen tree will not grow successfully in the desert of Arizona, one will not have much luck finding a palm tree in the wilderness of Montana. 

New Orleans is a suitable environment for palm trees because of its low altitude, humid subtropical climate, coastal location, high sun exposure, and proximity to the equator. The most common palm trees in New Orleans and Louisiana are the Canary Island Date palm and Palmetto palm.

Before we can talk about which types of palm trees are well-suited to this sort of environment, let’s dive into whether Louisiana, as an entire region, has palm trees.

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Does All Of Louisiana Have Palm Trees?

In a short answer, yes. Louisiana has many palm trees growing throughout the state. The major region may be NOLA, but that does not mean palm trees cannot thrive throughout the state of Louisiana.

Louisiana State University’s College of Agriculture states that the most common palm trees in Lousiana are the Canary Island Date palm tree (Phoenix canariensis) and Palmetto palm tree.

The sort of palm trees growing in Louisiana are going to be hardier trees, meaning there is a higher chance for a tree to survive (and thrive) as the temperatures get colder during the winter months.

Reasons Palm Trees Grow Well In Louisiana

Before we get into New Orleans specifically, here are a few reasons why palm trees can grow in Louisiana in the first place!

Proximity To The Gulf Of Mexico

This proximity affects not only New Orleans but the entire state of Louisiana. 

The Gulf of Mexico affects the land and creates a humid, subtropical climate in the middle of other, similarly defined land. 

New Orleans may feel this the most deeply, which we will discuss later, but Louisiana is a wonderful place for palm trees to flourish.

Louisiana Hardiness Zone Of 8a-10a Is Perfect For Palm Trees

Palm trees need a minimum hardiness level of 7a or higher to thrive. 

Louisiana falls into an even higher hardiness zone, which is a good thing! 

Palms are very unlikely to freeze, and there are great growing conditions for this general species in this part of the country

Wait, wait, wait… let’s back up. 

What In The World Is A Hardiness Zone?

The USDA has defined different hardiness zones across the United States to help categorize which trees will grow best in certain environments. 

Palm trees fall into the range of higher numbers on this scale, so they need warmer temperatures overall to thrive. 

You can find a map of the country and different regions’ respective hardiness zones provided by the USDA.

How Do Hardiness Zones Work?

Each zone represents a certain range of temperature in degrees Fahrenheit, with a threshold of 10 degrees. 

Those 10-degree zones get divided into smaller halves to represent the lower 5 degrees Fahrenheit and the higher 5 degrees Fahrenheit of each zone. 

Let’s look at the low end of the hardiness zones that palms can thrive in as an example. 

  • Palm trees start doing well in hardiness zone 7a. 
  • Zone 7 is 0-10 degrees Fahrenheit. 
  • Zone 7a is 0-5 degrees Fahrenheit. 

If palms could start doing well in zone 7b, instead, they could not do as well in that 0-5 degree Fahrenheit temperature range. 

Why Hardiness Zones Are Important For Louisiana Palm Trees

A hardiness zone represents what types of plants can survive in certain climate conditions. From the ability to survive in a minimum temperature range to their ability to thrive in an area with a higher minimum temperature range.

Hardiness is a great measure of the ability of a plant to survive in cold temperatures. The 0-10 degrees of zone 7 does not represent the average temperature of the region. It also does not represent the other factors in a region. 

Hardiness zones represent the minimum temperature a region can reach, not the typical temperature of an area.

It helps to remember other environmental factors can also play a part in the ability of a tree to do well in an area. 

Hardiness zones cannot account for precipitation, elevation, or freeze dates of a place.

That is where our other factors come in!

Let’s talk about NOLA specifically now. 

Why Does New Orleans Have Palm Trees?

Palm tree and green space in city park, new orleans

Alright, now the part you have been waiting for!

The factors, the reasons, the explanation… why New Orleans has palm trees!

Stick with us for the 5 main reasons New Orleans is such a magnificent home for palm trees to grow.

New Orleans’ Altitude Makes It Favorable For Palm Trees

The vast majority of palm trees live in low-lying areas, something that probably comes to mind when you think of New Orleans. 

NASA itself tells us NOLA is a perfect location for palm trees. Much of the city lies below sea level. It is thanks to levees and sea walls the various storm surges that come through the region have not yet completely decimated the city. 

The city was founded in marshy swamplands, and it took ages for settlers to figure out how to drain the swamp they had built so much on top of. Thanks to this delayed realization, the city of New Orleans sunk. 

There’s a reason NOLA has mausoleums instead of graves and a severe lack of basements. The water just underneath the surface is an enormous factor contributing to the overall setting of the city.

The altitude of the city is just one of the many factors that combine to make this such a great space for palms to stay.

Palm Trees Can Thrive In The Climate

Palm trees likely cannot survive winter weather. One frost and a palm tree may not bounce back. 

Did you know the city of New Orleans has a humid, subtropical climate similar to much of Florida?

Just like the rest of Louisiana, but a bit more extreme, New Orleans has quite the climate.

If you stop to consider the western coast of Florida meets the same gulf New Orleans itself is next to, it is not an immense surprise their climates may be similar.

Now, think about how many palm trees you see in Florida, right? Exactly. 

The climate of good ol’ NOLA is perfect for the subtropical palm species that call Southern Louisiana home.

While climate is important, don’t forget about those hardiness zones, the geography of New Orleans is another huge player in the city’s success with palms. 

Costal Locations Are Perfect For Palm Trees

If the overall climate of New Orleans and the fact the city rests at a low altitude is not enough for you, maybe the location is. 

Thanks to the coastal location of New Orleans, the weather is humid and pairs with other factors, which create a subtropical climate zone that is perfect for growing palm trees. Having water all around only enhances how low the city sits. 

The water table in New Orleans is very high thanks to the coastal location and the land that just isn’t high enough to avoid turning into a swamp a few feet below the surface. 

Not all palm trees love wet soil, but there are certainly many that thrive in this type of environment. New Orleans may just be the best place for these species!

Another reason this city is so great for palm trees? 

The sun.

New Orleans Provides Ample Sun For Palm Trees

Palm trees can grow with a bit of shade, but it is certainly not the ideal situation for these tropical trees. 

New Orleans provides a very warm, sunny location where a palm tree can soak up the water it needs, all while simultaneously soaking in the sun.

New Orleans averages 216 sunny days per year, beating the national average of 205 sunny days by over a week and a half. 

If it does not seem like a lot, consider the hours it likely translates to. This area gets approximately an extra 120 hours of sunlight a year. 

Take into consideration the amount of direct sunlight, and you will see why these trees do so well in the Crescent City.

The Geography Of New Orleans Lets Palm Trees Flourish

Okay, okay, back to the geography again. This time, we are talking less about proximity to the beach and more about the location of New Orleans on a global scale. 

We are getting serious now!

Palm trees grow most abundantly in tropical regions, between 30 degrees South and 30 degrees North on the globe. 

Funny enough, the coordinates of New Orleans see the city at just over 29 degrees North, making the city the best place in the entire state to flourish- geographically and otherwise. 

Now, as we mentioned, there are many types of palm trees. New Orleans is not suitable for all of them.

Lucky for you, we have compiled a list of how to grow some of the hardier trees that will do well on the Southeastern coast of the Bayou state.

Best Palm Trees To Grow In New Orleans

You should plant palm trees between May and August when the soil is warm and ready to help some little palm trees establish themselves as a fixture within the dirt. 

You’ll always want to inquire about… bum, bum, bum, the hardiness of your palm tree when you are buying it. 

We keep circling back to this factor, but it is potentially the most significant one.  

When temperatures drop in the winter months, you do not want to find out you selected the wrong variety of palm tree. Do this the easy way, not the hard way. 

Anywhere you purchase a palm tree from can tell you the approximate hardiness of the tree, and which zone you should plant it in. 

If your zone does not match up with a tree- do not force it. 

Simply buy a hardier tree. We promise it is easier than dealing with a tree dying during its first winter. 

Unless you can afford to move based on the type of palm tree you prefer, this is the best way to go about buying a palm.

You can learn about 825 different species of palm tree in The Encyclopedia of Cultivated Palms. This includes information about their hardiness zones, water and nutrient needs, and over 900 photos for identification.

Without further ado, some of the hardiest palm trees to plant in New Orleans:

Palmetto Palm Tree

Green small palm tree: little palmetto in a garden.

Also known as the ‘cabbage palm’ for its edible leaves that form a heart similar to an artichoke, this tree is pretty great.

The sabal palmetto tree is best suited for areas with the hardiness zone 8, which makes up much of the region’s ranking. Even in areas with a higher hardiness zone, this tree can thrive. 

This tree needs hot and humid temperatures to do well, so NOLA is just the spot to plant a palmetto.

Jelly Palm Tree

This tree does its best in hardiness zones 9-11, which is pretty perfect for the New Orleans region. 

You may wonder why it is called a jelly palm.

This tree is called the pindo palm but grows edible fruits with a large amount of pectin in them. 

Pectin is typically used as a thickener for jellies and jams, hence the ‘jelly palm’ name.

The more you know!

Low maintenance, slow-growing, and resilient- this tree does well enough in drained soil and can even survive droughts. While it will not be necessary along the coast, it is good to know the jelly palm (Butiá capitata) is versatile and well-adjusted.

Windmill Palm Tree

Palm leaf of trachycarpus fortunei close up view

The windmill palm does well in hardiness zones 7-11. With an adaptable palm tree like this one, it’s no wonder it can do so well in the hot New Orleans summer and the cooler months of the year. 

Plant this palm in some porous, fertile, moist, and well-drained (if possible) soil. 

Perhaps this plant will do well a little way inland, in regions that have tendencies that are a little less, well… swampy.

Canary Island Date Palm Trees

Some of the most common palm trees in Louisiana overall, the Canary Island Date palm tree is a signature tree in New Orleans. These palm trees grow best in hardiness zones 9-11, and can reach heights of up to 60ft tall!

That’s A Wrap!

Well, that is pretty much all we’ve got for now!

As much as we would love to talk about the thousands of species of palms that could do well in the Crescent City, we should let you go. 

The main takeaway is palm trees not only survive but truly thrive in the sunny yet damp region of the Southeastern United States.

Remember the key reasons that New Orleans is so well-suited for palm trees to grow:

  • Low Altitude
  • Humid Subtropical Climate
  • A Coastal Location
  • Lots of Sun
  • Close (Enough) to the Equator

I hope this piece helps you appreciate the versatility of palm trees and the great growing environment of New Orleans all at the same time. 

As you continue along your tree journey, remember to check back in for new tips, tricks, and bits of information that may just change your life. 

A little dramatic? Maybe, maybe not. Anyway, see you next time!

References

Bomhard, M. L. (1950). Palm trees in the United States (No. 22). US Department of Agriculture, Forest Service.

Costa, I. D. J. S., Costa, B. N. S., Assis, F. A. D., Martins, A. D., Pio, L. A. S., & Pasqual, M. (2018). Growth and physiology of jelly palm (Butia capitata) grown under colored shade nets. Acta Scientiarum. Agronomy40.

Karubian, J., Sork, V. L., Roorda, T., Duraes, R., & Smith, T. B. (2010). Destination‐based seed dispersal homogenizes genetic structure of a tropical palm. Molecular Ecology, 19(8), 1745-1753.

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