P91005KPalms are like ‘Red Delicious’ apples. It seems that most people dislike them; but they also seem to be very popular. Seriously, if only a few people like ‘Red Delicious’ apples, why are they so common in supermarkets? If most of us dislike palms, why are they so common in the San Jose Skyline?

I suspect that palms really are as unpopular as they seem to be, but that they are also very conspicuous within their situations. Not only are they focal points of the landscapes in which they live, but most types eventually stand as tall as the tallest trees in the neighborhood, and some get significantly taller. They are innately the most prominent trees within their neighborhoods.

Palm are not like other trees though. Arborists may classify them as ‘herbaceous trees’. They are foliar plants while young, producing increasingly large leaves from terrestrial rosettes. They only ‘launch’ and start to develop their trunks after the formerly terrestrial rosettes have grown wide enough to do so.

Not only are their trunks no wider than their associated foliar rosettes, but they get no wider as they grow taller. The base of a trunk of a palm is as wide when the tree is only a few feet tall as it will be when the tree grows to forty feet tall. Mexican fan palms are only wider at their bases because they start out like that.

Palms with slender trunks can launch much sooner than those with wider trunks. It does not take long for their rosettes to get as wide as their trunks. Canary Island date palms have rather plump trunks, so may need to mature for many years before they launch.

Yuccas and dracaenas are not really palms. Their trunks expand and develop branches as they grow and mature.


5 thoughts on “Herbaceous Trees

  1. Thank you, I never knew any of that, but then palm trees along the boulevards are somewhat non existent in even the most southerly parts of Ontario so I’ve never had occasion to think much of them. When I have seen them in photos my thoughts are usually; “wow, those are spectacular.”

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  2. I remember the palms everywhere when I lived in Carson, a suburb of LA. Some of the streets were lined with very tall palms. There were so many species growing here and there and some were well maintained and beautiful. Others seemed to get very raggy with a lot of dead leaves. Red Delicious apples, by the way, are a favorite of mine…

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    1. In the Santa Clara Valley palms were sort of tolerated. Most of those in the Palm Haven neighborhood of San Jose were exemplary, but some were not. I happened to learn to appreciate palms and their more intentional installation into landscapes in Southern California, both on Bedford Drive in Beverly Hills (which is now not at all impressive) and on Ninth Avenue in Liemert Park (as seen from Eighth Avenue). Palms had been intentionally planted in Palm Haven in San Jose, but most of what I remember from there were the naturalized palms that just grew randomly, and were sometimes neglected.

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