About Those Palm Trees

So here’s something I learned during our recent trip to California: palm trees are not native to Los Angeles.

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Which is odd, right? Because for many years now, when people think of the Los Angeles landscape, they think of palm trees. However, the woody plants native to the area tend to be scrubby shrubs and native oak species.

There is only one palm native to southern California: the California Fan Palm, or Washingtonia filifera. And even this plant did not grow in Los Angeles before Europeans started planting them there.

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Palm trees started gaining mass popularity in LA around 1900. In the 1930s, tens of thousands were planted by the city as street trees.

However, most palm species require a great deal of water – they are trees of oases, not deserts. Many of  the palm trees planted in the 1930s are now coming to the end of their natural life span. As they die, most will be replaced by other trees.

In fact, of the 150 species on the approved list of street trees for Los Angeles, only two are palms.

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Of course, many people are likely to continue planting palm trees on their own property. Though I hope that such folks are careful not too plant too close to the house (see above).

So in a couple of decades, palm trees may be few and far between in LA. Once again, what we assume to be timeless could turn out to be very temporary indeed.

 

 

49 Comments on “About Those Palm Trees”

  1. Palm trees are originally from Middle-eastern and southern asian countries, I’d think. (But would need to check!) But they are not the only trees that have a big thirst. Willows do, too. Nature eventually reclaims what humans have done… despite it not being good for us, it’s probably better for the planet.

  2. Love the palm eating the house picture! I knew that the big palms were not native, same with eucalyptus trees. I am not a fan of palms in general but they do lend a tropical look. The climate is Mediterranean – dessert and the native plants are not all that lovely in general. In the canyons of San Diego you see beautiful native California sycamore (Platanus racemosa). One my favorites is the native trees is Toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia). It is a shrubby tree that is native to California and Baja, Mexico. The other thing is as you cross the state west to east you go from the beach, to coastal range, to inland valleys, then the mountain range before you drop down in to the desert. So the plants change quite a bit!

  3. I absolutely love palm trees, they’re so elegant, so exotic and symbolic. Unfortunately, there are very few palms that will survive outside in winter and we have a couple of them. Inside, we have a monster-sized Kentia Palm that arches over the bath and makes for a very tropical holiday spa experience. It will never be Florida or LA, though.

  4. I bet that palm was a tiny thing when it was planted, and the owners had no idea it would grow up to swallow the house! this was an interesting and informative post. We don’t have palm trees here, and You are right, I assumed they grew naturally in LA. It is hard to imaging LA without them.

  5. Interesting. I didn’t realize palms were no longer approved for street plantings. Yes, that will certainly change the look and feel of LA over time. I lived in S. Pasadena for a summer with my aunt and uncle. I remember it fondly. Didn’t drive much, but the beaches were great and there were so many fun things to do and sights to see. I’m glad you had a nice trip. (Oh dear, that poor tree next to the house!)

  6. Great post! It is enjoyable to think of how an icon can be misleading, and how the entire look and feel of a place can change. Here’s to more enlightened choices going forward, with a regretful look at the glamorous palm-treed past. When I was a child living in Sacramento CA we had palm trees, as well.

  7. Thank you for your post. For me, most palms are weeds. It breaks my heart so see our native plants displaced by recent immigrants planting palms to perpetuate a false stereotype. California has so many beautiful native species that make wonderful garden plants.

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