California Fan Palms
Did you know that palm trees aren't really trees? They are giant plants that are
monocots and as such do not have woody tissue, so they arenâ€™t trees, botanically
speaking. But they certainly do get as big as trees. The tallest monocot in the
world is a palm that is Columbiaâ€™s National Tree, it reaches a height of 180 feet!
Palms also have the biggest leaves of any plant, reaching sizes of 75 feet, the
largest seeds of any plant, nearly 2 feet long, and the largest flowers of any plant,
up to 24 feet tall. They are ancient plants that have been around for 80 million
Palms mainly grow mainly in tropical forests, but some species also grow in high
mountain, grassland, and desert areas. Enter the native California Fan Palm
Washingtonia filifera . The genus name honors George Washington, the first
President of the United States. This is the only palm native to the Southwestern
US. Another close relative grows in Mexico, the Washingtonia robusta.
California Fan Palms grow naturally in desert oasis in the Sonoran Desert. Iâ€™ve
hiked to several of these oasis including Borrego Palm Canyon and Coyote Canyon in
Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, and Lost Palms and 49 Palms in Joshua Tree
National Park. Natural oases environments are mainly restricted historically to the
area surrounding warm or hot springs, near the source, or shortly downstream from
the source. These are magical spots not only for plant life but for wildlife as well.
Fan palms provide critical habitat for Nelsonâ€™s bighorn sheep, Hooded Oriole,
Gambel's Quail, coyotes, the palm boring beetle Dinapate wrightii, and a rare bat
species, Lasiurus xanthinus that is especially fond of fan palm groves. Hooded
Orioles rely on the trees for food and places to build nests. Both Hooded Orioles
and coyotes play an integral part in fan palm seed distribution.
Of course humans have made use of palms as well. The fruit of the fan palm was
used by the Cahuilla and Southern Paiute. It was eaten raw, cooked, or ground into
flour for cakes. Fan palm leaves were used to make sandals, thatch roofs, and for
making baskets. Stems were used to make utensils for cooking.
If you decide to visit a fan palm oasis, please tread lightly. Please leave your dog at
home, as they can easily scare away wildlife that depend on the oasis for water and
food. And please donâ€™t drink the water, many oasis are literally drying up, so
pack in your own supply.