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

    • Very glad to provide you with a laugh. How on earth can that house be adapted to the Palm? May be no choice but to take it down, which is unfortunate.

    • I’m not sure if it’s the same insect, but there is a South American palm weevil and something called a red palm weevil that are attacking a lot of the trees.

    • I have no idea … I really can’t tell one palm from another. By the way, is it possible my comments on your blog are ending up in spam? They seem to disappear without a trace.

  1. If they get rid of palm trees in LA it will look a lot different. The palm nudging that cottage is huge. I wonder what trees they will use to replace the palms???

  2. 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.

  3. Interesting that these trees that we so closely associate with LA are thirsty foreigners. It’ll be interesting to see what the area looks like in another hundred years or so. I’ll await your post.

  4. 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!

    • California is an incredibly diverse state, geographically and in many other ways. I looked up Toyon and realized I saw quite a lot of it while walking around.

  5. I think it would be fantastic if Los Angeles had more native landscaping in both public and private spaces.

  6. I do not plant palms Jason because of cold winter we have but I have a small one in a tub as a home plant. I see you have nice holiday in LA!

  7. 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.

    • I’m always surprised by how mild the climate is on the southern coast of England. In Chicago having any palms at all growing outside sounds remarkably tropical.

  8. 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.

  9. 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!)

  10. I’m sure there will still be plenty of palms going in. There will always be plenty of people who just want what they want and insist upon it. I guess that’s part freedom part selfishness.

  11. I was surprised to hear the palms are not native…gosh. Oh, that palm could easily demolish that house! How odd to think the landscape could change as the palms die out!xxx

  12. 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.

      • Yes. I’m still having trouble with the Scotch pines being removed from Illinois Beach State Park. I know they don’t belong there, but oh they looked wonderful there along the Dead River. sigh. I’m not a purist.

  13. 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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