Ridiculous palm trees

More palm trees - and the topic moves to 'Off-Ramp'

LA Observed photo

Here are two more LA palm trees that don't fit with their current locations — one a baby weed pushing up out of the pavement next to the recycling yard on North Main in sight of the Chinatown Gold Line station, the other a solitary old timer scratching eyeballs above Westwood Village.

LA Observed photo

John Rabe of "Off-Ramp" called the other day to ask about my new status as a native Angeleno who has soured on the palm tree visual cliche. We talk about it on Saturday's show (KPCC at noon) and he has already put the piece up on his blog. After my posts last week singling out some ridiculously situated palms, and admitting my new weariness with the whole palm tree aesthetic, Rabe interviewed the LA County Arboretum's palm man, Frank McDonough, to get some perspective on the city's relationship with palms. That's on the show too.

If you're interested in spinning deeper into the palm tree conversation, Nathan Masters has previously dug into the why and when of LA's skyline obsession with spindly, shadeless palms. He also found what may be the oldest original Los Angeles palm tree still living. Masters really knows his LA tree lore. He peeled off a fascinating story I always wanted to tell — the arrival and spread of eucalyptus trees in California (my personal favorite non-native flora here), and recently recreated the history of the giant riverfront sycamore that early Angelenos all knew and respectfully called El Aliso.

I'm getting a real mixed response to my confession — I'll put this post on my Facebook page and you can comment there if you wish. A whole lot of people agree with me that the palm tree look has worn thin — too little nuance and variation over too many years, not even counting the ridiculous places that people have planted the trees or let them grow as very tall weeds, towering over little houses or littering the canyon chaparral. I'm tired of looking at even the nice rows on streets like Alexandria Avenue or Sherman Way that I used to find attractive, so it's not just the loners that are bugging me. I wonder if the lack of rain is making the promiscuous Mexican fan palms look even rattier than usual, and whether that nudged me over the edge. I explored a bit in the parched landscape of upper Elysian Park last weekend and the palms punching up through the hard dirt looked almost as brown as everything else. Rabe says that McDonough confirms the drought does take a toll on the non-native palms.

I admit that I'm also hearing from plenty of people who love the palm trees and think they add an exotic touch waving high in the sky above stucco homes and dingbat apartments. (Shudder.) Rabe suggests it's a native versus newcomer thing, but that's too simplistic for me. My Elysian Park companion is a native-born Angelno too, and as we drove around in the city on Saturday, with me pointing out bad palm tree situations over and over, she eventually began pushing back. (And, finally, to cut it out.) She enjoys 'em, and she's not alone.

Even I can still admire a nice pairing of architecture and flora, like this date palm against The Bryson on Wilshire Boulevard. Now that works for me: it's one of my favorite palm tree moments in LA. Too bad it's so rare.

LA Observed photo

On the other extreme, Ed Fuentes flags this truly unattractive specimen out in San Bernardino.


Noted: Several years ago, the Urban Wildlands Group succeeded in getting some idiotic palm trees moved out of the El Segundo Dunes.

And finally: Tony Peyser offers a poem to the irrepressible fan palm.

The Washingtonia robusta
by Tony Peyser

The Washingtonia robusta palm tree
Is a fitting symbol, iconic
In the way it hovers over the land of
The free and the sardonic.

Its jagged fronds look like a hairdo
That’s a sine qua non
For every overpriced and overrated
Beverly Hills salon.

Its unbranched trunk suggests that
They are also akin
To those young girls whose bodies
Are remarkably thin.

These trees are an agricultural accessory
For those who have it made:
With appropriate selfishness, they never
Provide anyone any shade.

There’s something that’s sublimely perfect
And elegantly tactical
In how these signature Los Angeles palms
Are pretty but impractical.

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Recent Ridiculous palm trees stories on LA Observed:
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Church surrounded by palm trees
Pasadena palm weed looks ridiculous
Other places have ridiculous palms too
More palm trees - and the topic moves to 'Off-Ramp'
Dodger Stadium parking palm