The Arecaceae () is a family of perennial flowering plants in the monocot order Arecales. Their growth form can be climbers, shrubs, tree-like and stemless plants, all commonly known as palms. Those having a tree-like form are called palm trees. Currently, 181 genera with around 2,600 species are known, most of which are restricted to tropical and subtropical climates. Most palms are distinguished by their large, compound, evergreen leaves, known as fronds, arranged at the top of an unbranched stem. However, palms exhibit an enormous diversity in physical characteristics and inhabit nearly every type of habitat within their range, from rainforests to deserts.
Palms are among the best known and most extensively cultivated plant families. They have been important to humans throughout much of history. Many common products and foods are derived from palms. In contemporary times, palms are also widely used in landscaping. In many historical cultures, because of their importance as food, palms were symbols for such ideas as victory, peace, and fertility.
The word Arecaceae is derived from the word areca with the suffix “-aceae”. Areca is derived from Portuguese, via Malayalam അടയ്ക്ക (aṭaykka), which is from Dravidian *aṭ-ay-kkāy (“areca nut”). The suffix -aceae is the feminine plural of the Latin -āceus (“resembling”).
Whether as shrubs, tree-like, or vines, palms have two methods of growth: solitary or clustered. The common representation is that of a solitary shoot ending in a crown of leaves. This monopodial character may be exhibited by prostrate, trunkless, and trunk-forming members. Some common palms restricted to solitary growth include Washingtonia and Roystonea. Palms may instead grow in sparse though dense clusters. The trunk develops an axillary bud at a leaf node, usually near the base, from which a new shoot emerges. The new shoot, in turn, produces an axillary bud and a clustering habit results. Exclusively sympodial genera include many of the rattans, Guihaia, and Rhapis. Several palm genera have both solitary and clustering members. Palms which are usually solitary may grow in clusters and vice versa. These aberrations suggest the habit operates on a single gene.
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