Go to Keys to Identifying Selected Plant Groups in the SGM
There is one palm native to California, Washingtonia filifera, California fan palm. Washingtonia robusta, Mexican fan palm, aka the sky duster, is widely planted here and seems to be more widespread.
Palm Primer for the San Gabriel Mountains
There are two types of leaves on the most common palm trees, fans or feathers. Washingtonias are fan palms, that is, all the leaf segments begin from one point, not several along a central stem like the other kind, the feather palm of which the date and coconut palms are commonly recognized examples.
Description: tall, columnar, unbranched tree with a topknot of fresh leaves and often of skirt of turned-down dead ones
- Find out why it is sometimes called the Petticoat Palm http://www.desertusa.com/magnov97/nov_pap/du_nov_fanpalm.html
- Lists the known sites of this infrequent palm http://sandiego.sierraclub.org/rareplants/233.html
- Comprehensive description with excellent photographs http://www.xeri.com/xeriscape/palms/palm21.htm
- Natural History Notes contains a quaint note about dispersal http://ag.arizona.edu/arboretum/pwalk/pw19.htm
How to distinguish between the California and the Mexican fan palm
Feature California Mexican Leaf Color gray-green yellow-green Leaf Margin tattered fibers smooth Leak Stalk green red streak on underside Trunk Width stout slender Trunk Base not swollen swollen
Habitat: California fan palms are often found growing along the San Andreas fault line and by seeps, springs and streams, in canyons, and in desert washes where water is available. They mark desert oases. They are hardy to 18° F and found generally below 3500 feet.
The Jepson Manual does not recognize the robusta species as having naturalized, but it is often found, growing in gutters, outfalls, debris basins, lawns and freeway verges, any place where waste water collects, even along road cuts as in the above picture taken near Blue Cut on I-15 on the San Andreas Fault.
Locations: By names on the land: Palm Springs, Palm Desert, Twenty-nine Palms, Thousand Palms, Dos Palmas Spring, Palm Wash, Four Palms Spring, Seventeen Palms Oasis, Seven Palms Valley. Numbers and water sources often seem to be connected to the name. True distribution of palms is probably not documented because of the difficulty of collecting and preserving the frond according to the Sierra Club site listed above!
- On the Trail of the Desert Fan Palm: Three desert fan palm oases http://www.desertusa.com/mag99/may/stories/fanpalms.html
- Dos Palmas Oasis Preserve [These are W. robusta!!!] http://www.team-one.com/events/2_palmas.html
- Coachella Valley Preserve including Thousand Palms Oasis, the second largest grove of California Fan Palms in the state http://www.team-one.com/events/coachlla.html
- The Kern River has eight trees growing near the canyon mouth A Flora of Kern County, California
- A web site dedicated to the the Moapa palms, W. filifera, growing in southern Nevada, full of fascinating information http://www.xeri.com/Moapa/index.htm
These Moapa palms are growing somewhat farther north than those in Kern County making them the northernmost naturally-occuring grove.
- We have found Washingtonia robusta growing in Eaton Canyon near the sewer outfall, near the New York Drive bridge and in the debris basin. Doubtless there are others unrecorded. John Aziz of Wrightwood has photographed W. robusta growing in Cajon Pass.
Copyright © 2002 by Jane Strong and Tom Chester.
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Updated 21 December 2002.