Even though they are not native plants, palm trees are one of the most recognizable elements of the Los Angeles landscape and are somewhat of a symbol of what they represent. Most of the palm trees seen in the city today were planted between the late 19th and early 20th centuries. However, since many of them die due to old age or disease, the local administration is considering not replacing them with new palm trees. Los Angeles is one of the most polluted cities in the United States and average temperatures are expected to continue rising in the coming decades. However, palm trees are not as efficient as other plants when it comes to mitigating the effects of global warming caused by human activities.
California has only one native species of palm, Washingtonia filiera, while most of the tens of thousands filmed in films set in Los Angeles or printed on postcards are from other species. Non-native palms were brought to California by Spanish Franciscan missionaries in the late 18th century and spread primarily for ornamental purposes beginning in the late 19th century. As Donald Hodel, former consultant in gardening and landscaping at the University of California, noted, their “exotic, theatrical and tropical” appearance served to attract residents from elsewhere during a period of great development favored primarily by America Parts of the United States attract Hollywood. In 1931 alone, 25,000 were planted to beautify the city for the Olympic Games the following year.
Over time, palm trees transformed a natural landscape that was previously predominantly dry and desert-like, dotting the city's most famous neighborhoods and avenues, from Venice Beach to Beverly Hills to Sunset Boulevard. At the same time, their presence helped to shape the idea that Los Angeles was a warm and welcoming, rich and prosperous place: in short, palm trees became part of the city's cultural identity and represented important resources also for tourism, i.e. for the local one Business.
Recently, the number of palm trees in Los Angeles has been declining: many (it is not clear how many) have died due to old age or due to a parasite deadly to this type of plant, such as a beetle and a fungus. Hodel estimated that some of the species planted for the 1932 Olympics could survive for between thirty and fifty years (some species live up to 150 years), but in general he defined them as “retired.” However, given the need to increasingly use green spaces to provide more shade and combat heat and pollution, the local administration plans to replace them with other plants.
The most widespread palm species in Los Angeles County is Washingtonia robusta, which is typical of northwestern Mexico, can grow up to 25-30 meters high and has a crown with leaves even more than 5 meters long. However, it requires large amounts of water to grow and provides very little shade, at least compared to the trees typical of California such as oak or ficus. In the words of V. Kelly Turner, a geography and urban planning researcher at UCLA, palm trees don't do much to provide heat protection in the summer heat: “A post on the side of the road doesn't provide much shade. A palm tree is a bit of the same thing.” Additionally, they do not help absorb significant amounts of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas responsible for global warming.
In California, average summer temperatures have increased by about 1.8°C since 1896 and are estimated to be more than 2°C higher than in pre-industrial times by 2040. In these circumstances, according to experts, it will be necessary, among other things, to invest in the protection of forests and the development of urban green spaces, in particular by planting crops that can withstand the climate crisis and combat drought on the one hand and refresh the environment on the other To improve air quality and make residential areas more livable. Los Angeles has already taken some measures in this direction.
The city's environmental agency has made it clear that its plan to plant new trees does not include palm trees. Even the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection does not allow the winners of its tenders to plant palm trees because they are high-maintenance and provide little benefit: “The cost-benefit ratio is not positive,” the head of the Forestry Department told the Los Angeles department Times, Walter Passmore.
The Beverly Hills Urban Green Management Plan, prepared by the Dudek company, recommends that palm trees that do not have historical significance or provide tourism benefits “should be evaluated and selected for removal and replacement with trees that provide more shade.” ». Among other things, the Los Angeles Department of Forestry Sciences said it is working with other management agencies to figure out how to create more space to replace the palms with trees that provide more shade and may be native.
As arborist Ryan Allen, one of the Dudek experts who helped assess conditions in the city, told the Los Angeles Times: “Between a palm tree and a shade plant, planting a palm tree is like missing an opportunity .”
– Also read: Planting more trees is not enough to save the world
However, the Los Angeles landscape is unlikely to see major upheaval, at least for the foreseeable future.
The Los Angeles Times claims that palm trees will likely remain in the city for a long time, both because it is likely that people will continue to plant them on private property and because some neighborhoods are replacing some of the dead palm trees with other palm trees for landscaping reasons Uniformity. Even Elizabeth Skrat, the head of the local government's City Plants program, “seriously doubts that palm trees will disappear completely.” According to Jared Farmer, history professor and author of the book “Trees in Paradise,” “the big one could be Palm Death” in Los Angeles instead becomes one of the typical dystopian stories of Hollywood cinema: “a failed American experiment”.