There's no denying that palm trees are an iconic feature of the Los Angeles landscape, despite being non-native and ecologically almost worthless. In this week's CityBeat (out today), David Davin rejoins the debate over the palm. As prices climb to meet the demands for palms in Las Vegas and Phoenix, pink crown rot takes its toll and the early 20th century plantings die off, we may soon come to miss the familiarly absurd things.
�They have no ecological or environmental value whatsoever,� says Carmen Wolf, program director for the Theodore Payne Foundation, which operates a native California plant nursery. Organizations like Wolf�s and the California Native Plant Society say that because palm trees are not native to the region in most cases (with the exception of the California Fan Palm or the Desert Fan Palm), they are not only more susceptible to disease and rot, but also damaging to the native ecology.
Steve Hartman with the California Native Plant Society argues that, while there may be no native ecology in the inner cities of Southern California anymore, there are certainly outlying areas to consider. �A person thinks it�s not so bad to have a palm in their backyard in the middle of the city � but then the birds eat the seeds, fly to areas where there are no palms � and then you have whole new areas [growing palm trees].�
Virginia Postrel, a longtime observer of Los Angeles society and author of The Substance of Style, says the idea that Los Angeles is � or can be � anything like it was in its native state is ridiculous. �The idea that you�re going to somehow have this pristine identity that�s sheltered from anything that�s not �natural� � that we should all just go away � it�s biological xenophobia.�
Postrel goes on to argue that palm trees are essential to Los Angeles�s sense of place. �For somebody that has lived here for many years, I have a positive response when I see the tall palm trees that represent L.A,� she says.
Postrel is also the columnist for The Atlantic and Forbes who used to edit Reason magazine here and has a blog.