Getting to Know Palm Trees: Five Fascinating Facts

Palm trees are among the most iconic residents of Southern California. They line the local streets, contribute to the cultural identity of the region, and provide a number of the environmental benefits that most other trees do. Most of those growing in our midst were deliberately planted, but you’ll occasionally stumble upon a wild example, who’s escaped cultivation and made their own way in the world.

But no matter how they arrived at the locations in which they grow, palm trees are very different from most of the other trees in the Southern California area. They have a number of unique biological characteristics and adaptations that make them so captivating and set them apart from most other trees.

We’ll talk about five of the most interesting examples of these adaptations and characteristics below, as we discuss a few of the most fascinating facts about palm trees.

1. Palm trees aren’t technically “trees” at all.

Palms exhibit a number of different growth habits. Some are little more than shrubs or bushes, but others do grow in tree-like form. However, none are what botanists would consider true “trees,” in the sense that oaks, pines and dogwoods are; instead, palms are members of the family Arecaceae. The biggest difference between palms and true trees is that palms lack secondary growth – they don’t increase in diameter in the same way trees do. Nevertheless, palms certainly function like trees from a homeowner or property manager’s point of view.

2. Palm trees are an incredibly diverse group of plants.

Even though they aren’t “trees” in the technical sense of the word, palms are part of an incredibly diverse group of plants. In fact, the family Arecaceae contains more than 2600 described species – and several more likely wait scientific discovery. This means that different palm species have colonized different parts of the world. Most are restricted to the tropics and subtropics, but there are a few species that live in temperate lands.

3. Palm trees can be dangerous to prune and trim.

Palms rarely present the kind of safety hazards that some other trees do (some oaks, for example, may shed large branches with little warning). However, the dead fronds that hang from their canopies can be extremely dangerous. Even though they are essentially dead leaves, these large fronds weigh more than most people would think, and it doesn’t take many to represent enough weight to crush a person. In fact, removing dead fronds from palm trees is one of the most dangerous tasks arborists routinely perform.

4. Coconuts aren’t the only fruit produced by palm trees.

Most people envision coconuts when they think of palms, but in actuality, palm trees produce several different types of fruit. Acai berries, for instance, come from palm trees that are native to the northern portions of South America. Other palms produce dates, while others still produce betel nuts. Some palm fruits (such as those produced by the sago palm) are actually toxic. However, these and other poisonous or unpalatable palm fruits are usually important for wildlife.

5. California fan palm is the only palm native to Southern California.

Given the number of species that thrive in Southern California’s Mediterranean climate, it’s a bit surprising that only a single species is native to our region – especially when you consider that several species inhabit the Southeastern United States. Nevertheless, the California fan palm (Washingtonia filifera), has been growing in scattered portions of the American Southwest and Baja California for thousands of years. And because it has naturally adapted to the climate and soil chemistry of the region, it makes a great choice for homeowners interested in installing palms.

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As you can see, palms are clearly interesting plants, and many will thrive in Southern California properties – you just have to be sure to pick a good species for the location. If you are thinking about installing a few palm trees on your property, or you need some help caring for the ones already growing in your yard, give your friends at Evergreen Arborist Consultants a call. Our experienced arborists are familiar with all of the trees commonly planted in Southern California properties – even those that aren’t trees at all.