Los Angeles’ legendary palm trees are dying – and few will be replaced
A beetle and a fungus are killing off the trees that have become synonymous with the city, making way for trees that give more shade and use less water
Palm trees greet you outside the LAX airport, they line Hollywood Boulevard, stand guard over the Pacific and crisscross neighbourhoods poor and rich, a botanical army of stems and fronds which symbolise the world’s entertainment capital.
Apparently not for much longer. LA’s palm trees are dying. And most won’t be replaced.
A beetle known as the South American palm weevil and a fungus called Fusarium are killing palm trees across southern California. Others are dying of old age. “It’ll change the overall aesthetic because palm trees are so distinctive. It’s the look and feel of Los Angeles,” said Carol Bornstein, director of the nature gardens at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles.
A city tally in 1990 estimated the number of palms on city streets at 75,000, a number which has not been updated but is destined to plunge in coming decades, the Los Angeles Times reported this week, citing officials.
No one knows how many will die, or how fast. For palm lovers, the even worse news is that they won’t be replaced, perhaps not even mourned.
uthorities will instead plant other species that give more shade and consume less water – important factors for an overheating city. By the middle of the century, LA is expected to be three to five degrees fahrenheit warmer and to have triple the number of extreme heat days.
“Palms are decorative and iconic, but Los Angeles is facing more and more heatwaves, so it’s important that we plant trees that provide adequate shade to protect people and cool the city down,” said Elizabeth Skrzat, programme director for City Plants, the city’s tree planting arm.
Climate change has made California hotter and drier, a boon to bugs that destroy vegetation, said Andy Lipkis, the president of TreePeople, an LA-based advocacy group. Palms afforded LA little protection from heat, drought and flooding, plus they served as a habitat for the Norway rat, but their die-off signalled a wider crisis, he said.
“It’s a wake-up call. Millions of trees are dying in southern California. One price tag for removing the dead trees over the next 30 years is $37bn. Trees have a much harder time growing and thriving in cities today because the climate is much harsher.”
Full story at The Guardian