Bio: Planted to beautify L.A. streets for the 1932 Olympics, Mexican fan palms are the city’s most visible symbols of the sun-and-surf good life. Phoenix has a passel of them too.
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.