Six on Saturday: Fan Club

Palms are not as popular here as they are in Southern California. Furthermore, they are less popular in the Santa Cruz Mountains than they are in the Santa Clara Valley below. There are so many more refined landscapes in the Santa Clara Valley, and they contain many more exotic species. In the Santa Cruz Mountains, cutting trees down is more of a priority than adding more.

Besides, palms look silly with redwoods. Of these palms, which are mostly fan palms, only the Mexican fan palm will get planted as the winter rain starts. The others remain canned for now.

These palms are quite the Fan Club.

1. Arecastrum (Syagrus) romanzoffianum, queen palm – is not eligible for membership in this exclusive Fan Club. It is ‘feather palm’, rather than a ‘fan palm’. Therefore, no queens allowed.

2. Brahea armata, hesper palm – is a most distinguished fan palm. It is quite rare. Like the California fan palm, it prefers warm and dry summers, so can languish if irrigated too frequently.

3. Trachycarpus fortunei, windmill palm – is the opposite. It is quite common, and could be even more common, since it is not at all discriminating, and is proportionate to compact gardens.

4. Washingtonia robusta, Mexican fan palm – had the been the most common palm locally prior to the queen palm fad of the 1990s. Unfortunately, it gets very tall. Notice the lingering ash.

5. Washingtonia filifera, California fan palm – is an aspiring member that recently grew from an old seed. It is also known as desert fan palm, and is the only palm that is native to California.

6. ‘A BIG STICK’ was the only ‘club’ I could find for this Fan Club. No one knows what it is, where it came from, . . . or anything about it. I think it is a wheelbarrow or post hole digger handle.

This is the link for Six on Saturday, for anyone else who would like to participate:

Bad Wine

I believe that this is a young Chilean wine palm, although I am not certain.

Italian Americans, particularly Californians, are expected to be experts in regard to wine. I am not. I can not explain it. I dislike wine, especially the best of it. It smells and tastes like rotten grapes. When I learned that Chilean wine palms were, and might still be, decapitated for the collection of their sap, from which wine is made, I learned yet another reason to dislike wine.

This little Chilean wine palm, Jubaea chilensis, pictured above, lives just a block or so away from the bad date palm that I wrote about last Sunday. No one here will try to make wine from its sap. The utility cables that seem to be too close in the background actually pass with plenty of clearance to the right, so will not be a problem in the future. This young palm should be safe.

Although I have encountered too few of the species in my career to be completely certain that this little palm is a well bred Chilean wine palm, it is very convincing. I see no indication that it is a hybrid of another species. About half of the Chilean wine palms that I encounter are hybrids. Most of these are hybrids of queen palm. Others are hybrids of pindo palm. Both look weird.

Of course, well bred Chilean wine palms are not much better. The specimen pictured below demonstrates that, regardless of how bold and striking they are, they are still rather weird palms. That is probably why they are so rare now. They were rare even during the Victorian Period, when weird species were trendy. Yet to many, their distinctive weirdness is part of their allure.

I can not help but wonder where this Chilean wine palm came from. Someone must really appreciate it to put it here.

Chilean wine palm is not a good houseplant.

Bad Date

No one likes a bad date.

Date orchards that were displaced by the expansion of urban sprawl around Las Vegas in the 1990s were the source of the many recycled mature date palms that briefly became popular for large scale landscapes at the time. Most of the trees within the orchards were female, with only a few male pollinators. (Pollinators can live remotely, where they provide pollen for dusting.)

Male trees were undesirable anyway, at least in conjunction with female trees. They are taller and lankier, with less pendulous foliage, so are less visually appealing. More importantly, they pollinate female flowers so that they make fruit. Of course, in orchards, fruit is very important. In landscapes, it is just a mess. Without male pollinators, female trees produce no messy fruit.

Consequently, most male trees were not recycled. Some were installed singly, or in exclusively male colonies, in landscapes that were reasonably isolated from female trees. After decades of dutiful service, this is how they were retired, . . . or not.

During the brief date palm fad, a colony of exclusively female date palms at a mall near here produced a minor crop of dates during its second year after installation. It was not a major mess, but it was perplexing. Eventually, someone realized that a single relatively small male date palm lived just outside of the landscaped areas. It likely grew there from seed as a curb mongrel.

Even though the male tree was too remote to pollinate the female trees sufficiently for a major mess, it was removed. It was not much bigger than the short and clumping date palm pictured above. This tree seems to be a curb mongrel as well, since it was not likely planted there purposely. Furthermore, it will also likely need to be removed. It is too close to the building behind.


This is one of the several Canary Island date palms that Brent Green saved from poachers on the embankment of the Santa Monica Freeway.

Since I began posting my gardening column articles here, and supplementing with blog posts, I have deviated from horticultural topics only a few times. I will now do it again. I had earlier selected a horticultural topic for this post. It will wait for now.

Brent Green, my colleague down south, called me on the telephone to tell me to watch the news. I did so, but only briefly. It was just too crazy. So far, I have made a point of saying nothing about Coronavirus. I said nothing about those who protest the violation of their right to spread disease that will kill others. I mentioned nothing about the racist murderers in Minneapolis.

Now I see that people are senselessly rioting and looting in several cities in America.

The office building of the Canyon News, one of the newspapers that I write for, was clearly visible in the background as police helicopters showed looting of stores on the historic Rodeo Drive in Downtown Beverly Hills, in the region of Los Angeles. Police cars and palm trees were burning. From three hundred and fifty miles away, I can see it online.

This is not demonstration or protest. It is looting. It is mere opportunistic thievery. Those involved are not at all concerned about social justice, their own Communities, or that Black Lives Matter. They are exploiting an already bad situation to plunder what they can get away with.

This is happening in the Community where Brent Green has been planting his Birthday Trees (in quantities that corresponds to his age at the time) in public spaces for the past twenty two years. This is near where Brent Green saved several Canary Island date palms on the Santa Monica Freeway from poachers. This is a region that many people care about.


It is not as bad as it looks.

No, this is not wheat. It is the larger of the two Mexican fan palms that I dug and canned more than a week ago. ‘Wheat’ refers to the unpleasant phase that it is now going through. It is a long and awkward story about how it became known as the ‘wheat’ phase. All that anyone should know is that it refers to the color of the fading foliage. It fades from green to golden brown, just like ‘wheat’.

I say that the explanation is awkward because it involves an old skit by an offensive comedian on HBO in 1986, when the renowned landscape designer, Brent Green, was my college roommate.

Yes, we will just leave it at that.

Anyway, this is not at all unexpected. It is a normal process. I just wish it could be avoided. Every time I dig and can a palm, I hope that it will not happen; and I actually engage the associated palm as if it will somehow be different from the rest, and maintain all of its healthy green foliage. Some get through it more efficiently. Some start to produce new foliage before their old foliage dies off.

I actually relocated a mature windmill palm that somehow maintained the upper half of its canopy until it started to produce new foliage. That was all the fronds that were above a right angle to the trunk! I was impressed by that one. It was very different though. Most of the roots had already been damaged prior to relocation. Also, it was relocated in autumn, so had all winter to start recovery.

This unfortunate palm was dug not very long ago, just as the cool and rainy weather of winter was ending. Now that the weather is suddenly warming to around 80 degrees, the foliage is resuming vascular activity that the severed roots can not sustain. To compensate, it will shed this foliage that is now browning, while diverting resources into new foliage and roots. It knows what it is doing.

The new fronds that are still folded up in the middle are just fine. They will unfold into healthy new fronds as the palm recovers through summer. The first few fronds might be a bit stunted, but that is just part of the process. Newly relocated palms tend to accelerate foliar growth during such recovery, so, in just a few months, this cute little palm may look as good as it did when I canned it here.

Herbaceous Trees

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.

Pasadena Windstorm


The weather in the parts of California that most of us are familiar with is generally rather mild. Some of the hottest temperatures every recorded were in the Mojave Desert, but not many of us even know how to get there. Some of the heaviest snowfall ever recorded was near Tahoe, but many of us think of that as almost Nevada. San Jose, Los Angeles and the most populous regions enjoy mostly comfortable weather throughout they year.
‘Drought’ is often an inaccurate description of the naturally prolonged dry chaparral and desert weather, as if it is abnormal. There would be no chaparral or desert if it rained here as much as it does in other climates. What is considered to be normal rainfall in some regions would be disastrous to regions that do not normally get so much precipitation. Drought does happen here sometimes, but it is not as common as outsiders believe it to be.
Once in a while, we get something that really is strange. The floods and mudslides of the Winter of 1982 were disastrous. The wicked frosts of late 1990 were the worst in recorded history, even though they would not have been much of a problem in most other climates farther inland. On the morning of December 1 in 2011, Pasadena and the surrounding regions of the San Gabriel Valley experienced historically strong and destructive winds.
When I went to Los Angeles shortly afterward, I was amazed to see that pieces of the glass facades of some of the skyscrapers had been stripped away. Thrashed fronds of queen palms hung limply as if a hurricane had gone through. My colleague got these startling pictures of destroyed Canary Island date palms, which are famously resilient to wind, in Leimert Park, about fifteen miles southwest of Pasadena.


Palm Treevia


This is a quick trivia question.

Which of these three states has the most native genera of palm?

1. California

2. Hawaii

3. Oklahoma

4. None of the above


This is not a trick question. Notice that it asks about genera rather than species.

1. California is home to many exotic specie and genera of palm; but only ONE is native. The California fan palm, Washingtonia filifera, which is also known as the desert fan palm, lives in isolated groves out in the Mojave Desert. Because it prefers hot and arid desert climates, and does not like to be watered too generously through summer, it is now a very unpopular palm for landscapes.

2. Hawaii, is populated by many more exotic species and genera of palm than California is, but only species of the ONE genera of Pritchardia are native. Many of the exotic genera were imported by ancient Polynesians to produce food. Others were imported later for landscaping.

3. Oklahoma is the sort of place where only a few of the toughest of exotic palms can survive outside. Yet, McCurtain County, in the very southeastern corner of Oklahoma, is home to ONE very rare but nonetheless native variety of dwarf palmetto, Sabal minor.

4. ‘None of the above’ is the correct answer to the question because none of the other choices above have any more native genera than any of the others.

So, although Hawaii really does have more native species of palm, it has no more native genera than California or even Oklahoma. Each of these three states has exactly ONE native genus of palm.

I am sorry that I have no good pictures of any of these palms. All three of these pictures were obtained online. I have experience with neither the dwarf palmetto of Oklahoma, nor any of the species of Pritchardia of Hawaii. However, the California fan palm happens to be my all time favorite palm, even though it is not very happy here. It is such a stately palm, and those grown from the same seed batches are uniform enough for formal plantings. They are the palms that flank the famous Palm Driveway of the Winchester House in San Jose, as they were popular for flanking driveways and roadways in California and Arizona during the Victorian period. I did happen to see California fan palm in the wild outside of Palm Springs while in school in the late 1980s and can tell you that they are spectacular in their native habitat.


Note: The elderly and deteriorating California fan palms that flanked the Palm Drive of the Winchester House have been replaced with palms that are hybrids of California fan palm, Washingtonia filifera, and Mexican fan palm, Washingtonia robusta. They are more tolerant to the irrigation of the landscape around them.


P80630KWhat are they doing out there, in those two pots in the island of such a vast parking lot? It is hard to say from this distance. They are so isolated. They might be happy and healthy summer blooming annuals. They might just be weeds. They could be plotting World domination. Plants can do some weird things in isolation.

Mexican fan palm is the most familiar palm in Los Angeles. Some know them as skydusters because they are so tall and lanky, and do not seem to have anything better to do than lazily brush against the undersides of clouds as they float by. In Los Angeles, there are not many clouds to keep them busy, and there is not even much smog anymore. Mexican fan palms certainly do not make much shade, and because they are so tall, their little shadows land in neighbors’ yards. They are so tall that you might be able to see them from wherever you are merely by looking towards Los Angeles. Instead of getting Frisbees and kites stuck in their canopies, they collect satellites. When they drop one of their big leaves, it burns up in the atmosphere.

In their natural environment, Mexican fan palm lives in a large and mostly contiguous native range (areas) in which individual colonies are not isolated for too long. Pollen gets shared rather thoroughly. Trees are consequently very similar throughout the range. Slight genetic variation is only perceptible in regions such as Los Angeles, where various groups of trees are grown from seed collected from various regions of the native range.P80630K+

Sometime in the ancient history of the specie, a few individuals decided to leave the rest of the herd and go live in isolation out in the adjacent deserts. They could only survive where there was a bit of water, so they inhabited any oasis they could find. This might have happened as some trees migrated up canyons that had perennial creeks flowing through them only to have the lower portion of the canyon go dry as outflow from above decreased. Seismic activity within the region has a way of altering the outflow of springs. Anyway, these more reclusive palms eventually became a separate species, or subspecies, or variety, depending on the botanist providing the information. This separate species (or subspecies or variety) is now known as the California fan palm, or the desert fan palm. It thrives on the hot and arid desert air, but is not very happy in milder and more humid coastal climates. (I am sorry that I do not have a good picture at the moment.)

Unlike Mexican fan palm that lives in a big contiguous range, California fan palms lives in small isolated colonies where they can not share their pollen freely with other colonies. Over thousands of years, each colony adapts to its specific environmental conditions. Genetic variation within colonies is not perceptible, but is quite obvious in landscape situations where trees grown from seed from different colonies can be compared.

California fan palm is much shorter and stouter than Mexican fan palm. It does not need to compete with too many other specie out in the desert. The trunks are straighter, and the canopies are fluffier. Unlike the very informal and relaxed Mexican fan palm, it is an excellent palm for formal landscapes. It is the specie that flanks the famous Palm Driveway at the Winchester House in San Jose. The only stipulation for these formal installations is that all the palms must be grown from the same batch of seeds procured from the same colony.

Location – Location -Location!

P80422Speaking of which, this is not the right location!

This unhappy Mexican fan palm may have grown here from seed, as they often do. They are notorious for growing under utility cables because that is where birds drop so many of their seed. Perhaps the seed for this one was dropped by a bird perched on the sign many years ago.

Ironic, isn’t it. Birds tend to perch on utility cables and signs and in trees and everywhere that palms should not be planted. How often do they drop seeds out in the open, where whey will not encroach into something as they grow up? Why can’t they drop palm seeds in places where palm trees would actually be an asset? It happens sometimes, but not as often as palms appear where they are not wanted.

The picture below shows three larger Mexican fan palms that were intentionally planted in the original landscape, with a smaller palm between two of the larger palms. The palm in the first picture is barely visible in front of the sign in the background, and is about the same size as the smaller tree that is more visible between the taller trees.

It is possible and perhaps likely that the two smaller palms were not planted intentionally. It is also possible that someone actually planted them.

It does not matter now. The palm in front of the sign needs to be removed. The removal of all the foliage will not kill it. It will generate new foliage that will again obscure the sign if the tree is not eliminated soon. There is no way to prune the palm to divert growth around the sign. It has only one terminal bud, and is unable to generate another if topped. Palms under utility cables have the same problem. Once they get too close to the cables, they must be removed.

Getting back to the first picture. The shock and awe of the defoliation of the subject Mexican fan palm was likely sufficient distraction to prevent anyone from noticing the queen palm foliage peeking around the right side of the sign. Unlike Mexican fan palms, queen palms rarely grow from seed here, especially in a spot where there are no other queen palms nearby. Yes, someone planted ‘another’ palm in the same spot!P80422+