Palms come in a variety of forms including trees. Palms have two types of leaves, looking like fingers and feathers. There are over 2,500 types of palms that grow all over the world. Palm trees have a range of uses and were important since the dawn of civilization. Palm trees symbolize many things including eternal life, victory, rest and relaxation, and many places and peoples. They also have important religious significance.
The first image many would have of a palm tree is a person on a tropical island, maybe even Gilligan’s. The person might be daydreaming of sitting under the tree, drinking a coconut drink.
Unfortunately, most people who are reading this are not likely to be in such a pleasurable location. Nonetheless, maybe right in the “palm of your hands,” we can learn all about palm trees and the various ways they are symbolic.
The English language can be fun as well as confusing, including how different words (including “pine”) can mean a variety of things. But, the different meanings of “palm” are related.
There are actually two types of palm leaves. Some look like hands. Others are like feathers.
Basic Facts About Palm Trees
Palms are a collection of evergreen plants that come in various forms such as vines, shrubs, and trees. Palms that grow in tree form are logically enough called “palm trees.”
There are over 2,500 species of palms. Palm trees might be associated with tropical climates, but they grow in diverse locations, from deserts to rainforests.
Palm trees are tall. They can grow 160 to 200 feet high.
They also live a long time. Palm trees can live for over a century. Palm trees also have been around since the birth of human civilization. Over ten thousand years ago.
The trunks of palm trees do not grow in size as they age. This means, unlike many trees, they do not make rings on their trunks. Rings are a familiar sight and help to determine how old trees are. Palms, however, are shy. It is harder to determine exactly how old they are.
Palm trees have a variety of different kinds of fruit, including but not only coconuts. Did you know that tasty dates actually come from palm trees?
What Can Palm Trees Be Used For?
One could go as far as to say that, had the date palm not existed, the expansion of the human race into the hot and barren parts of the “old” world would have been much more restricted.United Nations Summary
Humans have found many uses for palm trees since the beginning of civilization. This both shows the usefulness of palm trees as well as why they have so many symbolic meanings.
Pine trees provided food, shelter, and raw materials for a range of products.
Consider the many foods that palm trees provide: coconuts, dates, heart of palm, palm oil, palm wine, sago (a starch), and more. They also can provide raw materials for baskets and furniture (rattan), resins used for medicine, and simply a place to rest and have some shade.
Palm trees are also used for decoration, giving a tropical touch. Spanish missionaries, for instance, introduced palm trees to California to (to mix metaphors) spruce things up.
Curious about the symbolism of other trees? Read about it here.
One Tree: Three Religions
The importance of palm trees to the Middle East also led to them having a special role in the three monotheistic religions that grew up there.
Palm trees are repeatedly referenced in early religious texts, both the Bible (Jews and Christians) and the Quran (Islam). They have much religious symbolism.
The Palm and the Bible
Moses saw palms when leaving Egypt and palms were used to decorate the Jewish Temple.
Palms symbolized both growth and success. “The righteous shall flourish like a palm tree, he shall grow like a cedar of Lebanon.” [Psalm 92:12]
And, when nature was used to praise the beauty of two lovers, palm trees served as one of many symbolic images. “Your stature is like that of the palm, and your breasts like clusters of fruit. I said, “I will climb the palm tree; I will take hold of its fruit.” [Song of Songs 7: 7-8]
Jews believe palms represent peace and plenty. The gospels tell us the people laid palms on the ground to welcome Jesus in his entry into Jerusalem (celebrated on Palm Sunday).
Palm Trees and Islam
Islam honors palms as a symbol of rest and hospitality. Dates, fruit of palm trees, have a special significance to many Muslims. The Prophet Muhammed enjoyed dates and once compared [Hadith 1:59] date trees to Muslims themselves:
The Prophet said, “Amongst the trees, there is a tree, the leaves of which do not fall and is like a Muslim. Tell me the name of that tree.”
Everybody started thinking about the trees of the desert areas. And I thought of the date-palm tree. The others then asked, “Please inform us what is that tree, O Allah’s Apostle?”
He replied, “It is the date-palm tree.”
Palms Symbolize Locations and Peoples
Many people, as we said earlier, have an image of tropical paradises when they think about palm trees. Palms, however, grow in a range of locations. They can symbolize each one.
Palms were a basic symbol of Ancient Mesopotamia. Date palms particularly are a basic symbol of the Middle East and a staple of Muslim diets.
Palm Beach, Florida is named after a grove of coconut palms growing there. South Carolina is nicknamed the “Palmetto State,” after a type of pine tree that grows there.
Small palm trees can even grow in apartments. They are symbols of urban living too!
Palms Symbolize Life
Palms are evergreens, which do not lose their leaves each year. They have been around for thousands of years. They grow tall and provide basic essentials for human civilization.
So, it is not surprising that Assyrians, an ancient Middle Eastern culture, believed that the ultimate symbol of eternal life was a palm tree growing beside a stream.
Some people trace the Christmas tree back to the Egyptians, who used to bring green palm branches into their huts on the shortest day of the year, symbolizing life’s triumph over death.
Life also means fertility and palm trees symbolizes a happy marriage and many children.
Palms Symbolizes Victory
The laying of palms to provide a path for Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem was but one example of ancient cultures using palms as symbols of victory.
The Greek god Apollo was believed to be born under a pine tree on the island Delos. The Delian league of Greek city-states took a pine as its symbol.
Ancient Romans rewarded champions of the games and celebrated military successes with palm branches. A laurel or palm leaf became a popular sign of victory.
Closely related, palms can also symbolize good luck. Palms can be used for good luck charms.
Palms Symbolizes Rest and Plenty
A common image that comes to mind when you think about palms are tropical areas, often with coconut palm trees. What is absent? Any cares or worries.
It is a time of vacations, rest, relaxation, and maybe even a place where you dream of retiring to one day. Palm trees symbolize rest, plenty, and generally a place of safety and joy.
Middle Eastern cultures also believe date palms and their fruit is a sign of plenty. They are a favorite part of their diet, including after a fast.
For me, palm trees particularly remain something that Gilligan and his friends will see, including finding many uses for coconuts. In their case, palm trees symbolized isolation and being lost.
Palms, however, mean and symbolize so much more. So, as you hold your favorite device in your palm, perhaps munching on some dates, I hope you enjoyed learning all about them.