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Why the palm trees of Los Angeles are dying, and why Phoenix is different


When I first moved to Phoenix, and then Los Angeles, palm trees were palm trees to me. That is, all of them looked pretty much the same. But a few years ago I started learning about the differences, and to me it's fascinating, and it explains why the palm trees in Los Angeles are dying, but not in Phoenix.

No, it's not a conspiracy, man. And it has nothing to do with smog, or freeways. It's just that most of the palm trees in areas like Beverly Hills, which were planted in the 1920s or earlier, are simply reaching the end of their normal lifespan. Stay with me on this, I'm gonna talk some Latin.

The most common palm tree with the tall, skinny trunk is called a Washingtonia robusta. They grow well, and fast, in warm climates like Phoenix and Los Angeles. To say that they grow like weeds is not an exaggeration, they often grow out of cracks in the sidewalks. Birds plant them there, you know.

Most of the Washingtonia robustas planted in Phoenix aren't nearly as old as those in Los Angeles, except for places like the ASU campus, where several of the trees along Palm Walk are nearing the end of their lifespan.

Black Sphinx Date Palms, 44th Street and Camelback, Phoenix, Arizona. Phoenix dactylifera

But take a second look at palm trees. There are two main categories, fan palms and date palms. I like to describe fan palms as looking kind'a like toilet bowl brushes (sorry about that!) and date palms more like feather dusters. Compare the two photos in this post. See what I mean?

Now take a look at most of the new construction around Phoenix. When you see palm trees, you see mostly date palms. Actually, nowadays they're bred to not produce dates, which are messy (kind of like how they do seedless watermelons).

Date palms are the palm trees of a desert oasis. And while apparently the city of Los Angeles has no plans to replace its dying palm trees, Phoenix has no worries. Phoenix will continue to be a desert oasis. And that means palm trees.

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