Of the approximately 2,800 varieties of palms identified worldwide, none are native to Orange County. In fact, only one is indigenous to California--the California fan palm. It grows naturally in desert gullies and canyons where there is a source of moisture. Its more common relative, the Mexican fan palm, is the most widely planted palm in California.
To casual observers, palms may all look alike. But members of this ancient plant family vary greatly in size and appearance. Most of the world's palms fall into two major categories: Fan palms and feather palms. They come from tropical or subtropical regions.
Here's a look at some of the county's palms and places where the public can find them:
Mexican fan palm: \o7 Washingtonia robusta\f7 . This single-trunk fan palm grows very rapidly--3 or 4 feet per year under ideal conditions, eventually to 100 feet. It tolerates poor soil and drought. Although almost indistinguishable from its cousin, \o7 W. filifera\f7 , when young, the Mexican fan palm develops a more slender trunk than the California fan palm and has more compact foliage. The trunk sometimes develops a curve and old leaves or leaf bases generally stay attached unless removed.
Other fan palms: Try planting a \o7 Livistona \f7 or a \o7 Brahea\f7 . They don't grow as fast as Washingtonia, but they offer a different look.
Grooming: Use a curved-blade utility knife to cut around where old leaf bases are attached to the trunk. Remove leaf base, exposing smooth trunk, but be careful not to cut too deeply.
Kentia palm: \o7 Howea forsterana\f7 . A feather palm from Lord Howe Island in the South Pacific, this slow-grower is the classic Victorian parlor palm because it tolerates low light and indoor conditions. Outdoors, it needs a temperate, moist coastal climate.
Queen palm: \o7 Syagrus romanzoffianum\f7 . It's a tall relatively fast-growing, robust feather palm whose foliage has been likened to a clump of ostrich feathers. It is sometimes sold as \o7 Cocos plumosa\f7 or \o7 Arecastrum romanzoffianum\f7 . Fronds break off cleanly, leaving an exceptionally smooth, straight trunk. Very popular in Southern California, this South American native has survived temperatures below 20 degrees but needs moisture, and its fronds tend to break in strong winds.
King palm:\o7 Archontophoenix cunninghamiana\f7 . Called bangalow or piccabeen palm in its native Australia, this tall, elegant feather palm needs moisture and protection from hot, dry winds and broiling inland sun. It is frost tender when temperatures drop below 30 degrees. Graceful and tropical in appearance.
Mediterranean fan palm: \o7 Chamaerops humilis\f7 . Native to Southern Europe, this extremely hardy clumping fan palm has reportedly survived temperatures from zero to 5 degrees. It grows slowly and is drought tolerant. A faster-growing cold-tolerant fan palm with a solitary trunk is the windmill palm,\o7 Trachycarpus fortunei\f7 . The native of China is hardly to 5 to 10 degrees.
Pigmy date palm: \o7 Phoenix roebelenii\f7 . This is a small, slow-growing, delicate feather palm from Laos that grows to about 6 feet. It is a houseplant anywhere and can be grown successfully outdoors in Orange County's coastal climate zones. It likes moisture and does best in at least partial shade.
* Palms create an exotic tropical or desert oasis effect.
* Same-sized seedlings of many palms, planted simultaneously, often will grow uniformly. The result is adult plants that are identical in height.
* They look dramatic with night lighting or when silhouetted against a lighted building wall.
* They are excellent near swimming pools because they do not drop leaves.
* All sizes transplant readily. The best time is in the spring or early summer. Large, mature palm trees are extremely heavy but can be relocated using a "tree spade" truck, shown at right.
* Roots do not break up concrete sidewalks, curbs or foundations.
* Many varieties are tolerant of salt air in coastal locations or desert heat once they are established.
* Palms do well for long periods of time in containers.
* Palms tolerate shade when young, so they adapt to patios or can be brought indoors.
Viewing Palm Collections
A. Crystal Court: Take a self-guided tour of the 121 species of palms. For information, call (714) 435-2160. Also, across Bear Street at South Coast Plaza, see the largest Majesty palms in the world outside of Madagascar.
B. Hyatt Newporter: Another highly regarded palm collection.
Other collections in area: Cal State Fullerton, the Huntington Botanical Gardens in San Marino and Balboa Park in San Diego.
Source: Ralph Velez, International Palm Society; Researched by PAUL DUGINSKI / Los Angeles Times