5 iconic palm trees for home gardens
Who loves ‘em: Tourists and die-hard Angelenos, native and transplanted.
Who doesn't: People who dismiss them as invaders that do nothing to cleanse or cool the air, or as costly nuisances (L.A. spent about $400,000 in one year cleaning up fallen fronds). Some city foresters prefer native shade trees such as oaks and sycamores.
In their defense: “Studies show that Mexican fans are as effective as other trees at cleansing the air,” says Donald R. Hodel, palm and tree expert and environmental horticulture adviser for the University of California Cooperative Extension. “But each tree has a smaller canopy, so you need more of them.” With proper pruning, they aren’t messy or dangerous, he says. “They don’t block street signs or views. No other plants can bring that graceful motif to the Southern California skyline.”
Amazing facts: They grow 100 feet tall and can live for 100 to 150 years.
Who loves ‘em: Birds, which live in the canopies. Landscapers who’ve lavished them on Vegas pools, Beverly Hills streets, the east end of the new Bay Bridge, and San Francisco’s Embarcadero.
Biggest threat: A disease called fusarium wilt—spread by pruning tools—that’s killed some street trees in San Francisco and L.A. Victims are replaced with fusarium-resistant types such as Chilean wine palms. Pruning practices have since changed for the better.
Amazing fact: “The fibrous leaf bases hold moisture,” says San Francisco palm broker Jason Dewees, “so little gardens take root in them. I’ve seen tiny coast live oak and ferns up there.”
Who loves ‘em: Hikers, painters, and photographers; the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, who once lived among these trees and still own Indian Canyons. Birds, which make their home in the palms’ thatch “skirts.”
Amazing fact: Their trunks are so limber that some specimens have grown sideways as much as 20 feet before shooting skyward.
Who loves ‘em: Growers. Palmeros, workers who climb them often, in spring to transfer pollen from male to flowering female trees, in summer to bag the fruit stalks, and in fall to harvest the dates. Chefs who prize the dates’ honey-caramel flavors.
Biggest threat: Developers; urban sprawl is pushing agriculture down the valley.
Amazing fact: Female trees bear their first fruits at 7 to 10 years old and continue bearing for decades.
Who loves ‘em: Native Hawaiians, who call them niu, meaning big. Tourists, who love their laid-back vibe. Producers, who find the Islands’ palm groves perfect sets for movies from Blue Hawaii to Pirates of the Caribbean IV.
Amazing fact: “These palms bow in winds that would snap less agile trees,” says Donald Hodel. “In 1999, Hurricane Iniki destroyed the hotel Coco Palms in Kauai. But its coconut palm grove barely flinched.”