Palm trees add a tropical charm to living or leisure spaces, which is why people are genuinely curious about them and crave having one of these plants in their space.
However, palm trees can be challenging to grow due to their specific climate, soil, and maintenance requirements. The good news is many substitutes can be used to mimic the look of real palm trees in decor and landscaping. While some are indeed true palms and belong to the same family, most are not.
We have dedicatedly selected many beautiful palm-like trees, which are not only noticeable in their natural wild habitat but also can be grown as a houseplant. As interior houseplants, they thrive and grow less than their natural outdoor conditions.
Sago Palm (Cycas revoluta)
Sago palm is a cycad, thus belonging to the Cycadaceae family. Native to southern Japan, it is one of the most widely cultivated cycads, often used in gardens and landscapes in tropical and subtropical climates.
As with many other cycads, the Sago Palm superficially resembles palms. This cycad is an excellent substitute for a palm tree inside the house and has been used as an ornamental plant for ages.
Sago palm is slow-growing but can live for many generations. Some well-cared-for Sago Palms have been known to survive for a century or more. It has a low trunk with feathery pinnate leaves that give it a palm-like or fern-like appearance.
An interesting fact about these plants is that they are called living fossils since their ancestors can be traced back to prehistoric times, and they have preserved many characteristics from their ancient past.
Sago plants thrive in full sun but tolerate partial shade. As indoor plants, they must be kept in a well-lit (natural) place in the house, and the soil should be moderately moist. Drying out the soil is necessary between watering.
Cat Palm (Chamaedorea cataractarum)
Cat Palm, scientifically known as Chamaedorea cataractarum, looks akin to a palm tree in a very unusual way. Unusual because this plant is mostly a houseplant that doesn’t have a thick trunk like a palm tree. Rather, the cat palms have a group of thin stems that spread into beautiful feathery fronds, mimicking the appearance of a palm.
Moreover, cat palms also belong to the same family of Arecaceae as palms. These interior plants prefer well-draining soil and a spot that is bright and shiny with a temperature of around 75 degrees to grow well.
Majesty Palm (Ravenea rivularis)
A majestic palm can be a symbol or an embodiment of a perfect palm tree with long arching fronds in your house. That’s why it is commonly seen as houseplants despite being a wild tree native to the wet area of Madagascar.
A majestic palm can grow to 10-12 feet long as a houseplant and 80-100 feet long and 20 feet wide in its natural habitat. While one may love to have one of these plants in the house, it is a bit challenging to grow majestic trees.
It requires the right temperature, soil moisture, and sunlight for optimal growth. The soil should be moist enough (not waterlogged), and the plant should be kept in a bright location with adequate direct or indirect sunlight.
If you live in a humid region like Florida in the US, you can plant majestic palm for outyard landscaping, where the plant is likely to grow longer and wider.
Pygmy Date Palm (Phoenix roebelenii)
The Pygmy Date Palm is a miniature date palm native to China. It can’t grow long enough, even outdoors. It can only thrive about 10 feet tall and can be thick, around 2-3 inches. Its sharp, pointed leaflets give the fronds a lush, tropical look. Foliage color ranges from light to deep green.
With a hairy diamond pattern texture on the trunk, it looks like more of a date palm. One of the downsides of this tree is that it is extremely slow-growing but can live as much as 100 years long if proper care is given. Some positive aspects are it requires low care, moderate watering, and well-draining soil. It’s pretty easy to grow.
The Pygmy Date Palm can tolerate drought and is mildly adaptable to winter, but not the harsh winter. The best environment is under bright and indirect sunlight. In colder zones, pygmy date palms can be grown in containers and moved inside during winter.
Also known as the dragon tree, the Dracena Arborea tree has a palm tree-like structure, with long, slender leaves branching out from a central trunk. That way, the tree has a similar overall shape to many palm tree species. But they don’t belong to the same family.
This renowned indoor plant is perfect for those who want to infuse a tropical ambiance into their homes. By the way, the dragon tree is not native to tropical regions like Africa, Yemen, the Canary Islands, and southwestern Europe.
The dragon tree is a popular choice for homes and offices, known for its distinctive spiky green leaves with reddish edges. When grown as a potted house plant, it typically reaches a maximum height of around 6 feet. However, in a favorable, humid outdoor environment, it can grow as tall as 20 feet.
While the dragon tree thrives in warmer climates, it’s versatile to adapt to varying temperature and light conditions. That being said, its ideal condition is indirect and bright light.
Travelers Palm (Ravenala Madagascariensis)
Travelers Palm is an attractive outdoor plant often chosen for landscaping in tropical and subtropical regions. Despite ‘palm’ in its name, travelers palm doesn’t belong to the Arecaceae family. Rather, this tree falls within the Strelitziaceae family.
For its soft, non-woody stem, Travelers palm is also designated as an herbaceous monocot. One may disagree with the fact that it looks like a palm tree.
To describe precisely how it looks, it has banana-like leaves arranged in a fan shape emerging from a relatively short, unbranched trunk, giving it a distinctive and tropical appearance. Its tall, upright trunk and symmetrical crown of leaves give it a palm-like shape that is often associated with tropical landscapes.
There is an interesting story about why it is named like that. The foliage of the tree grows at an east-west point, which would help the ancient travelers to find directions like a compass.
On top of that, the arrangement of large fan-shaped leaves creates a funnel that could preserve rainwater. This water facilitates immensely to long-haul travelers. You can instantly recognize this plant as soon as you see the tree in front. The one off-putting detail about the tree is that this tree can be toxic to pets due to raphides, so keep it out of reach of animals if grown indoors.
Banana Palm (Musa Acuminata)
The Banana Palm is closely related to the traveler’s palm, with neither being a true palm. Its large paddle-shaped leaves, which can reach 9 feet long, resemble the palm tree. The structure of the leaves attached to the trunk provides a similar shape to some palm tree species.
Banana palms can have moderate to faster growth if planted in favorable conditions and can reach up to 15 to 20 feet in height and up to 5 feet in width.
Banana plants can be grown indoors and outdoors, depending on the climate. So, it is a popular choice for gardens to add a touch of tropical beauty, landscapes, and indoor spaces.
While these plants are commonly referred to as trees, they are technically large herbaceous perennials. And they produce edible fruit known as bananas. Well, this is too obvious!
Gum palm (Dioon Spinulosum)
Scientifically known as Dioon Spinulosum, gum palm is a cycad tree that looks nearly similar to the palm tree. If you know very little about it, you may often mistake one for another.
The layout and spread of feather-like pinnate leaves from the top of the trunk make it a palm tree lookalike, despite belonging to a different family. This resemblance to palm trees is one reason why it is often used as a substitute for palms in landscaping.
Native to Mexico and Central America, this slow-growing evergreen cycad can be as tall as 12 feet in the garden and house front yard, but in its natural habitat, it can thrive as long as 50 feet.
Gum palm is considered one of the tallest cycads in the world. For its low-maintenance nature, gum palm can be an excellent addition to your low-maintenance landscaping, especially if you reside in a humid region.
Besides, their lush foliage adds a touch of tropical flair. But gum palms need moderate watering, partial shade to full sun exposure, and moist, well-drained soil for optimal growth.
Chinese Fan Palm (Livistona chinensis)
Chinese fan palm, otherwise known as fountain palm, is a true palm native to East Asian countries like China and Japan. It is a popular choice for indoor plant decor and outdoor landscaping.
Chinese fan palms are excellent for landscaping due to their attractive starry fronds, which have a straight, arching shape and droop slightly at the end. These fronds can grow to 40 to 60 inches long.
This slow-growing palm can thrive between 15 to 30 feet long, but in its favored growing conditions, such as Florida, it can reach up to 40 feet long. However, Chinese fan palms don’t need specific demanding conditions and can grow well enough in varied growing conditions. This quality makes it an excellent addition for easy and low-maintenance gardening and landscaping.
But, one must ensure sufficient sunlight, warmth, and water are still there to help it grow and thrive. While preferring a warmer and tropical climate, Chinese fan palms can also survive the mild winter temperature down to 10-15 degrees Fahrenheit.
Ponytail palm (Beaucarnea recurvata)
Ponytail palm is scientifically referred to as Beaucarnea recurvata and is commonly known as elephant foot. But it is neither a palm nor an elephant foot. Only the base of the trunk looks like an elephant’s leg. Also, its long, arching, and strap-lie fronds that radiate from the top of the trunk give it a palm-like appearance.
Ponytail palms are good and popular houseplants. Their beautiful, curly, lush leaves and unique swollen trunk base, which resembles an elephant’s leg, make them stand out. Additionally, the plant doesn’t need any special care and is not overly particular about growth.
Ponytail palm is considered a forgiving plant as it can sustain lower light levels despite being a sun-loving plant. When you use one of these as a houseplant, keep in mind that it prefers bright light. So keep it near any sunny window for optimal growth. Keeping in low-light conditions will also be okay as it is tolerant of neglect.
Yucca Palm (Yucca elephantipes)
The Yucca palm is a popular indoor ornamental plant known for its palm-like appearance. The plant originates in arid regions such as Mexico and Central America, can grow well in shiny environments, and needs only a little watering.
It falls within the category of USDA zones 9-11, which means it also can grow and thrive in relatively mild climates with relatively warm winters. The Yucca Palm features broad, sword-like leaves that emerge from a thick, branching trunk. As it grows to a mature state, older leaves droop downwards, giving the plant a palm-like appearance.
In this article, we’ve explored 11 remarkable plants that are closely similar to palm trees. You may be looking for palm-like trees for decorative and landscaping purposes, low-maintenance options, or looking for alternatives that are suitable for your climate zones. Whatever your intent, this curated article presents an excellent list of plants that might help you achieve what you want.
Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced gardener, these plants will add a unique piece of beauty to your desired space both indoors and outdoors without the specific care demands of true palm trees.