Exploring the history of Phoenix, Arizona, just for fun. Advertising-free, supported by my patrons on Patreon. Thank you!

The palm trees of Phoenix, displaying wealth and fertility for over 100 years


Phoenix has a LOT of palm trees. Millions of them, and they've been there for well over 100 years. No, not the same ones, of course, but there have been palm trees displaying wealth and fertility since before the turn of the century.

I like palm trees. And I've heard people argue that they aren't as utilitarian as they should be, and don't seem to provide a practical purpose. And I agree, they're like rose bushes, they're simply beautiful and show wealth and fertility. They've shown that Phoenix is no longer a desert, it's an oasis.

It's hard for us to imagine nowadays, but getting people to actually move to the Phoenix area, and invest in it, wasn't easy. It was a desert. And while that might sound good to us, with purple mountains, and colorful plants, to turn-of-the-century people it was the worst place imaginable to live - the desert that they saw could best be described as "miles and miles of kitty-litter" (an expression I heard many years ago). And it wouldn't have mattered how many pamphlets were printed up saying how fertile the soil is (and it is!) or how much water flowed (and it does!) through there, people needed to see with their own eyes, and the best way to demonstrate was with the classic image of an oasis in the desert, the palm tree.

Hundreds, and thousands, of palm trees were planted. The skyline stopped being "miles and miles of kitty litter" and became instead a vision of an oasis, with the silhouettes of palm trees. There are so many palm trees in Phoenix it seems as if they're just part of the background, as if most people don't even see them. If I asked just about anyone to describe the trees that they see around Phoenix, they wouldn't probably not even mention palm trees. They're just part of the background.

Yes, some palm trees were planted as cash crops, for dates. But most were just planted to show off the wealth and fertility of the Phoenix area. There must have been a time when it seemed kinda pathetic to imagine that a great city would grow there, with the tiny palm trees just struggling. But they took root, and grew, just like Phoenix.

Image at the top of this post: a palm tree in Sun City, Arizona. One of thousands.

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