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AA Los Angeles Palm Trees

AA Los Angeles Palm Trees

Los Angeles Palm Trees

Not all palm trees are local celebrities. The palm tree has been a part of the Southern California landscape for centuries. You’ve seen them in old postcards and film photos. Before you visit, you might want to familiarize yourself with the variety of palm trees native to the region. Here’s a breakdown of the most common species to get your started.

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“What LA adds to that, which no city, no people had ever thought to do before, and maybe for good reason, is to plant palms systematically as street trees,” says Farmer. The young city, wanting to attract people to a world of sunshine and cars, planted tens of thousands of palm trees. And they weren’t just on big boulevards: Los Angeles planted them everywhere. Tiny residential streets, parks, anywhere. Places designed for tourists—boardwalks, beaches, wealthy hills, even sports arenas like Staples Center, where the Lakers and Clippers basketball teams play—were especially tended to. And they made sure the palms were watered.

Urban trees do actually have jobs, besides just looking nice: they provide shade, reduce heat, clean the air, some prevent erosion, and some produce an edible or useful material. Palms in Los Angeles do not do any of this. Their job was not to be good urban trees; it was to create an image of a new kind of city and convince people from elsewhere to come to Los Angeles. They succeeded at that! But with the first batch of trees now dying out due to old age and an array of pests and diseases, Los Angeles is making some changes. Replacement palms are more likely to be more drought-tolerant and provide more shade, like the Chilean palm. But, says Farmer, Los Angeles is not likely to ever let palms completely vanish.

During this time, palm tree numbers grew gradually. Developers planted them as alluring landscape ornamentation—transforming Southern California into a semi-tropical paradise rather than a semi-arid mix of woodlands and chaparral. It was a great selling point to drive population growth—palms created an atmosphere of a desert oasis with luxury and glamour. Not only did the people grasp and fall in love with this idea but Hollywood did as well. Right in the midst of the Golden Era of Hollywood, the craze of palms truly took off. They both supported each other in transforming Los Angeles into the city synonymous with palm trees.

In 1931 alone, Los Angeles' forestry division planted more than 25,000 palm trees, many of them still swaying above the city's boulevards today. This massive planting effort—conceived by the city's first forestry chief, L. Glenn Hall—is often characterized as a beautification project for the 1932 Olympic games. But impressing foreign athletes actually played less of a role than did getting L.A.'s unemployed back to work; the $100,000 program that planted some 40,000 trees in total was part of a larger unemployment relief program, funded by a $5 million bond issue. Beginning in March 1931, the city put 400 unemployed men to work planting trees alongside 150 miles of city boulevards. Mexican fan palms—then costing only $3.60 each—were spaced 40 to 50 feet apart.

 

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