LA's Treescape to alter

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LA's Treescape to alter

Postby Nathan » Mon Nov 20, 2006 10:29 am

Fan palms no longer hold sway

The City Council wants leafier trees planted on L.A. streets. That means more shade and oxygen.
By Bob Pool
Times Staff Writer

November 18, 2006

For more than a hundred years, the graceful, bushy-topped fan palm has been an iconic symbol of L.A.'s balmy, postcard lifestyle.

But city leaders now want to put an end to the tree's reign on the grounds it is bad for the environment.

City Council members voted this week to halt the placement of fan palms on parkways, median strips and other city-owned property where nearly 75,000 of them now grow.

Instead, the city will plant only sycamores, oaks and other leafy native species that will contribute shade, collect rainwater and release oxygen across the Los Angeles Basin.

The fan palm may be an emblematic part of Los Angeles, but its skimpy canopy is cheating city dwellers of the benefit of real trees since palms "are technically a type of grass and not trees," as a unanimously approved council resolution put it.

San Pedro-area Councilwoman Janice Hahn's motion, passed Tuesday, limits future use of palms along city streets unless they are needed to be consistent with existing plantings or are specifically requested by a council office or community group.

If new palms are planted, "fan palms should be discouraged" and shorter, more-densely fronded queen and king palms or Canary Island date palms used instead.

The vote comes as many fan palms planted by developers in the late 19th and early 20th century are entering the last phase of their life span. It also comes as the city is embarking on Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's ambitious goal to plant 1 million new trees.

Defining a place

Those who rank the tree right up there with the Hollywood sign, Rodeo Drive and the movie premiere searchlight in defining Los Angeles' sense of place contend that officials are palming a bad idea off on the city.

"The palm tree is one of the first things that comes to mind when you think of Hollywood, Los Angeles, Beverly Hills," said Edmond Avakian, manager of Palm Limousines of Van Nuys. "It's a symbol of glamour and the good life."

Timothy Phillips, superintendent of the Arboretum of Los Angeles County, agreed. His Arcadia preserve contains fan palms planted as far back as the 1860s and '70s by legendary developer Lucky Baldwin.

"It's ridiculous. The palm brings a sense of prosperity. The palm is Hollywood," Phillips said.

"It would be a shame to lose such an icon. Removing the palm from the street tree program is a knee-jerk reaction. They are very suitable for our climate and aesthetically pleasing."

Phillips also disputed the city's assertion that the palm is a grass. "That's biologically impossible," he said.

Not everyone is a fan palm fan, of course. Those who prefer leaf-bearing trees deride the palm as a stick-figure intrusion that lacks a place to hang a birdhouse, much less a swing or a hammock.

Hollywood filmmakers seeking a leafy East Coast look often have to search far and wide for local neighborhood settings that do not have a gangly palm poking its crown of limp fronds into the background sky.

But the end of the palm tree era has been creeping up slowly on Los Angeles.

For more than a dozen years, the fusarium wilt, a fungus endemic to local soil and lethal to palms, has been systematically killing them, especially the Canary Island date palm. The fungus is often spread among trees by contaminated chain saws used by tree-trimmers to remove dead fronds.

Some urban foresters have ordered landscapers to sanitize their saw blades with a bleach mixture and avoid cutting live fronds as a substitute for frequent pruning.

More recently, the replacement of infected palms and the planting of new ones has been slowed by the lack of affordable stock.

Landscapers say the cost has been driven up by the purchase of vast stands of palms for glitzy new Las Vegas casinos and Phoenix commercial developments.

The future of the palms has been an issue in the Country Club Park neighborhood in Los Angeles' Mid-Wilshire district.

Subdivided between 1906 and 1912, the neighborhood is distinguished by palms that have grown as high as 150 feet.

"I love these trees," said Peggy Richie, who has three large palms in front of her two-story Wilton Place home. "I was born and raised here. These are the trees you expect to see in Los Angeles."

Country Club Park has plenty of time before having to decide on replacements: Fan palms can live up to 150 years, say officials at the Department of Public Works.

Planted for the Olympics

Surprisingly sturdy because of a heavy, clumped root system, fan palms began popping up in Los Angeles in the 1880s when property owners imported seedlings. Specialized palm nurseries were in operation by 1900 as a palm-planting spree hit the city. Thousands were planted in a citywide beautification effort before the 1932 L.A. Summer Olympics.

In the wild, the two most common street palms, the California fan palm and the Mexican fan palm, grow 40 to 60 feet high. They shoot up into the 150-foot range in irrigated areas, however.

Councilwoman Hahn said the city's move away from palm trees was spurred in part by a public works analysis of satellite imagery that suggests that only 17% of Los Angeles is covered by a tree canopy. The average U.S. has 28% shade coverage.

"My district is the worst, with only 5%," she said. "We need more shade in Los Angeles. Planting palms gives the look of sunny Palm Springs and Hollywood, but not the shade we need."

But the palm isn't in danger of disappearing completely from L.A., Hahn promised. The city is not removing healthy palms, and residents can continue to plant them if they want.

Hahn wouldn't speculate what might be Los Angeles' iconic tree 100 years from now.

"It won't be the ficus, though," she predicted. Widely planted as a shady street tree in the 1950s and '60s, its aggressive roots have caused sidewalks to buckle.

"That was a bad choice 50 years ago," she said.

bob.pool@latimes.com

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Postby Dustyman73 » Mon Nov 20, 2006 6:48 pm


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Postby Carlos Araujo » Mon Nov 20, 2006 10:02 pm

"Todos vuelven a la tierra en que nacieron" Ruben Blades

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Postby ChrisLAXEncounter » Tue Nov 21, 2006 12:16 am


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Postby Dustyman73 » Tue Nov 21, 2006 7:53 am


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Postby nichols » Tue Nov 21, 2006 10:34 am

Here's a little background on native plants in Los Angeles.

"In L.A. county alone theres the desert biome, there’s the mountain biome, the foothill and what we’ll call the inland valleys and then there’s the coastal biome. Biome referring to a biological region or an area in a biological sense. Those are further broken down into different vegetation types, in the desert in la county we have several different vegetation types such as Joshua tree woodlands, juniper woodlands there’s also the creosote bush scrub and then you get into the mountains and you’ve got the desert side which has the pinion pine mixed with juniper and then the high confier forest and you come down on the coastal side and you have coastal pine trees. Pinion junipers are adapted to a warm, dry climate so that’s why they are on the desert side whereas Ponderosa pine, Jeffrey pine are adapted to more mediterranean or more coastal or humid water to survive. Then you come down off the forest and above 5000 feet you have what’s called the montaine or mountain chapparal where you have different species of manzanitas or ironwood and spruces.

The valley was big open large patches of grass and different types of oaks. Coast Live Oak and Valley Live Oak... it was just a big broad valley of oak trees and grasslands and near the foothills near Griffith park and the San Gabriel mountains and Verdugo hills was all coastal sage and chapparal and near all the creeks, the big washes were all alluvial scrub. Some of these had large stands of riparian gallery forest such as cottonwood willows and sycamores and things like that..."

Tom Keeney, senior ecologist
US Army Corps of Engineers
Interviewed October, 2006

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Postby ChrisLAXEncounter » Tue Nov 21, 2006 8:56 pm

LA's TreePeople is the force behind LA tree planting.
Join them:


Northeast Valley Area
Community Greening Workshop
Saturday, Dec. 2
Hansen Dam Recreation Area
Lake View Terrace Recreation Center
9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Learn how to organize tree plantings in the parks, in the neighborhoods and on school campuses! We'll also offer trainings on tree seed gathering, becoming a volunteer Planting Supervisor and more.
R.S.V.P. by Nov. 25 to volunteer@treepeople.org or (818) 623-4879


Northeast Valley Area
Tree Planting
Saturday, Dec. 9
Hansen Dam Recreation Area
Site to be announced
8:45 Sign-in
9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Join TreePeople and the L.A. Department of Recreation & Parks to continue our Northeast Valley Million Trees plantings! This is a follow-up to the 300 trees planted on Nov. 4. Please R.S.V.P. by Dec. 6 to volunteer@treepeople.org or (818) 623-4879

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Postby So_Cal_Native_in_Texas » Sun Nov 26, 2006 1:13 pm

I'm fine with encouraging more planting of native trees and shrubs, but why micturate all over the beloved tall palm tree? Southern California's a desert and L.A. shouldn't really be there. So palm trees fit perfectly.
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Postby ChrisLAXEncounter » Sun Nov 26, 2006 8:53 pm

According to LAURIE OLIN, one of the nation's leading landscape architects,


"The resident plant community here is mostly coastal sage scrub, which is highly flammable. There's not a single tree you can see right now that's native — nothing here is native. They're like you and me: They're all immigrants. There's a Mexican fan palm. These are ficus from East Asia. Almost everything you can see from here is from Asia or Latin America."

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Farewell to the Palms

Postby Josquin » Tue Nov 28, 2006 5:54 pm


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3 Dec 06 LA Times Op Ed Palm Trees

Postby Carlos Araujo » Sun Dec 03, 2006 8:34 am

Gregory Rodriguez:
Nothing says pretend like a palm tree
What makes palm trees so L.A.? They aren't supposed to be here.
December 3, 2006


PALM TREE, Palm tree, Palm tree. After two days of wrestling with his typewriter, those were the only words novelist John Fante's fictional hero, Arturo Bandini, could muster. In Fante's classic 1939 novel, "Ask the Dust," Bandini arrives in Los Angeles with dreams of becoming a famous writer. He sees his first palm tree through the window of his dingy Bunker Hill hotel room, and though its trunk is blackened by automobile exhaust, it reminds him of Palm Sunday and Egypt and Cleopatra. Unable to write, he fixates on the tree outside his room and types its name "over and over across the page, up and down, the same words." Writing that day was a battle, he thought, between him and the palm tree, and the palm tree won.

Nearly seven decades later, Los Angeles is finally fighting back, with a vengeance. A unanimous vengeance, that is. Two weeks ago, the City Council unanimously passed a motion to limit the planting of palms on city streets and medians. The city's Department of Public Works has declared that the palm that Bandini found so alluring is not a tree at all but a lowly species of grass. City Council President Eric Garcetti's office has proclaimed that the spindly yet exotic plants are "really bad for our city." Paula Daniels, who heads Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's initiative to plant a million trees over the next five years, thinks oaks — whose shade is better for water and air quality — should replace aging palms when they die.

Others have defended L.A.'s palms on the grounds that they are emblematic of the city and give us a much-needed sense of place. I disagree. I'm standing up for palms because they say less about who we are and more about who we want to be. We're talking aspirational vegetation. Rather than a sense of place, palm trees give us a sense of placelessness. They are a distraction, an indulgence, a whim. They are all about pretension. And, if nothing else, L.A. is among the most pretentious of cities.

I don't say this dismissively. Look up "pretense" in your thesaurus and you'll find synonyms such as "pretending," "make believe" and "fantasy" — all words that are, well, emblematic of our city.

But when I think of palm trees and pretense I don't conjure images of Hollywood or Bel Air. I think of South L.A. and mid-Wilshire, where many of the nearly 30,000 palms that were planted as part of a beautification project in advance of the 1932 Olympics still reign.

Contemporary historians have much maligned the early Anglo city fathers who tried to market L.A. to freezing Easterners as a Mediterranean paradise. But the conflict between reality and fantasy is fundamental to the L.A. experience. The single-family homes from which rioters first emerged around Florence and Normandie on April 29, 1992, tell us that much of the frustration that fueled the riots arose out of relative rather than objective deprivation. Compared to the worst neighborhoods of Chicago or New York, the epicenter for the 1992 riots looks like paradise. Yet compared to the ideal of what L.A. should be, it is hell.

But our pretense cuts both ways. A juvenile probation officer in South L.A. once dragged me outside his office and pointed to the palm trees and the jumbo jets on the horizon.

"I point them out to the kids who come in here," he told me. "I want them to know that people come to their city from all over the world to find their dreams."

As they were for Bandini, palms can be evocative of exotic places and times. They lend themselves to imagination. When planted in rows, they can collectively look regal, but individually, the fan palm in particular can look downright Dr. Seussian. I love the funny-looking palms outside my apartment window, and I've often wondered why their tufts of unkempt fronds tilt toward the winds that come from the ocean.

I should have asked Leland Lai, the president of the Palm Society of Southern California, who walked me around his garden in Topanga one morning last week. Lai showed me some of the 300 species he has planted since he started collecting palms in 1970 as a way to combat his homesickness for his native Hawaii. Not at all the eccentric you'd expect, Lai is a mild-mannered businessman who thinks the city's new stance on palm trees is excessive. He understands L.A.'s desire to create more shade by planting leafier trees, but he urges officials to try to find a balance between environmentalism and history, cost-efficiency and aesthetics.

As he walked me around the back of the house, to what appeared to be a tiny tropical rain forest, he articulated what it was that makes him love these plants. "They make you feel like you're in a far-off exotic place," he told me. "Palm trees take you away from Los Angeles."
"Todos vuelven a la tierra en que nacieron" Ruben Blades


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