||LA slowly phasing out the palm tree
Joined: Oct 21, 2002
From: Milwaukee, WI
|Posted: 2006-11-27 3:00 pm  Permalink|
Maybe a lot of logs these days... but LA carvers better learn how to carve hardwoods in the future!
Oaks may replace L.A.'s dying palms
Updated 9/14/2006 11:07 AM ET
By William M. Welch, USA TODAY
LOS ANGELES — From Hollywood to the beaches, nothing symbolizes L.A. like its tall picturesque palm trees.
That icon may be replaced, though, if city leaders and nature have their way.
Oak trees, says Paula Daniels, head of the city's new program to plant a million trees over the next five years, are a better replacement as the palms that have defined Los Angeles for a century reach the end of their lives. Oaks, she says, provide cooling shade to an overheating city and help air and water quality more than palms, even if they fall short of the exotic image.
"We're looking to drive environmental change," says Daniels, who is Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's appointed chair of the mayor's One Million Tree Initiative. "Palm trees are not part of what we will be targeting to achieve these environmental benefits."
These are strange times for Southern California's mighty palms, imports that go back as far as the state's 18th century Spanish missions.
Not only are they left out of Los Angeles' plans for its future, palm trees here are under pressure from a variety of sources — disease, age, economics, environmental critics, out-of-state developers and even thieves.
Symbols of tropics and desert oasis, palms are in high demand by land developers across the Southwest who plant full-grown palms to instantly create an atmosphere of luxury for new housing or commercial projects.
From the sprawl of Las Vegas to the suburban growth of Arizona, demand for palms, particularly the most desirable type, the Canary Island Date Palm, has driven prices as high as $20,000 for one mature tree, and occasionally even more, experts say.
"It's the market," says Henry Donselman, a palm expert who is a consultant for developers and other buyers. "It's what happens when something becomes more in demand. ... Now there's shortages of certain ones."
And yet palm trees provoke intense feelings among critics, who say palms aren't real trees, don't help the environment, crowd out native growth and pose a hazard when sick. Broadleaf trees, they say, retain more water and have more leaves that clean the air and provide shade.
"One of those nasty palm fronds hit on the roof of my car," says Betsey Landis, an author on native California plants. She would like to see the palms gone.
"It's a Hollywood postcard sort of thing," she says of the palms. "It's not native. We're a Mediterranean climate, and it's a desert plant. But then everything grows in Southern California."
Here in the city, many of the tall palms that line streets and adorn postcards are succumbing to age or a deadly fungus, says Steve Dunlap, tree surgeon with the L.A. City Recreation and Parks Dept.
Thousands of the city's most visible palms were planted early in the 20th century as the city took shape and later in preparation for the 1932 Olympics. Now 75 to 100 years or older, many are falling down and others are infected and removed before they can fall, he says.
Few are being replaced with young palms, Dunlap says. His department has no budget for palms, and the threat of disease makes the most desirable varieties a poor choice to plant anew. Thus the city's parks and streets may gradually change appearance.
"As far as replacing them, we've really had to take a hard look at it and say, well, it's difficult for us," he says. "In some parks where they've been a signature tree for so long and there were so many, as they thin themselves out it changes the atmosphere and the look."
Says Donselman, who maintains a website devoted to the glory of palms: "The problem is, city budgets don't allow replanting $20,000 palms."
Beverly Hills has been hit even harder than neighboring Los Angeles. Towering with feathery fronds, Canary Island Date Palms were planted along its streets before the first house was built, says Ken Pfalzgraf, urban forester for the city of Beverly Hills.
Fungal disease has invaded the trees. Pfalzgraf says 42% of the city's 1,520 Canary Island palms that line its streets have died or are infected and dying. The fungus contaminates the soil, so identical replacements would quickly fall ill too, he says.
But Pfalzgraf would love to preserve the Canary Island palms, which he says have proved hardier than most hardwood trees. He says nursery research may yet come up with a disease-resistant variety of the Canary palm.
"The useful lifespan of urban trees can be 25 to 40 years. The palms have given us 100 years," says Pfalzgraf, who came to Beverly Hills five years ago after managing palms for big casinos in Las Vegas.
Of the palm critics, he says, "I take that personally."
Some of the biggest palms are probably descendants of those brought to the region by Junipero Serra, the Franciscan priest who established the Spanish missions. Historians say he stopped in the Canary Islands on his journey and brought seeds and cuttings to the new settlements, Donselman says.
Only one variety, the California Fan Palm, is native to the state, he says, but palms have become symbols of the region and have long been used to landscape Northern California, too.
Out in rural San Diego County, where scores of nurseries supply much of Southern California's palms, crime stalks the palms.
Court Blackburn, manager of The Good Earth Nursery, says he has been broken into by palm thieves five times this year.
"It's not just us. It's a bunch of other nurseries too," he says. "And everybody has lost hundreds of thousands of dollars. They cut fences, driven in on our property, steal palms."
Elisabeth Silva, the San Diego County deputy district attorney in charge of prosecuting palm cases, says catching the thieves has been difficult. She says they range from small-time drug users seeking quick cash, to big-scale operators with their own flatbed trucks and cranes, and who sell to developers or middlemen. "Palms are valuable. They're highly sought after for landscaping, and for the large ones, we're talking big-ticket items."
Stolen California palms are being transported to other states as far as Florida, she says. And she says some of the best examples may bring $40,000.
"It's just a huge problem," she says.
Planning for the future Los Angeles, Daniels says she recognizes the allure of palms but believes her city is ready to move beyond them. Just, she says, as the city needs to reduce its emphasis on the automobile.
"I think that the symbol of a convertible parked near a palm tree really is iconic about L.A.," she says.
So what should replace that image?
"An oak tree and a bicycle," Daniels says.
Joined: Jul 14, 2005
From: My Island
|Posted: 2006-11-27 3:13 pm  Permalink|
"Stolen California palms are being transported to other states as far as Florida"
BenZart.....they're on to us......Aack!
Grand Member (first year)
Joined: Jan 29, 2004
From: San Pedro, CA
|Posted: 2006-11-27 5:39 pm  Permalink|
god, I love LA. The solution to those pesky non-native palms? Great big non-native oak trees! As if huge oak shade trees won't also crowed out native species. LA is one bizarre place. I say - sure if you're against the palm because it's invasive, then let so cal return to the chapparel it once was.
great article lake, thanks for posting it!
OMG! I'm on Instagram!
Joined: Nov 12, 2002
From: Huntikington Beach
|Posted: 2006-11-27 7:21 pm  Permalink|
I vote for big chrome trees!
Joined: Jun 08, 2006
|Posted: 2006-12-01 12:54 am  Permalink|
Would it be too much of a pun to say "It's LA, make them plastic trees."?
[ This Message was edited by: KimoTiki 2006-12-01 00:55 ]
Joined: Dec 01, 2006
From: San Pedro & Kona
|Posted: 2006-12-01 12:21 pm  Permalink|
what to do if you are into stump transformations and love those non-native palm silhouettes (anything except "Washingtonia Fillafera" - the native socal palm)
located in San Pedro, installed on TG saturday - happy tiki hunt!!
I grew up with a California Sycamore which is now a huge monster specimen. It sheds about 8 trash cans a week of leaves for three months and then starts all over again. Bad idea - the replacement program. Nice shade - Nicer mess.
The city of LA is into dirty chainsaw trims which is killin' those iconic palms. Sort of Palm Tree HIV.
Joined: Jun 28, 2005
From: Va Beach
|Posted: 2006-12-01 1:03 pm  Permalink|
Oaks are native to California, and were a significant food source for the Native Americans.