Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

METROPOLIS | SO SoCal

That's What Fronds Are For

May 04, 1997|A. Grey Le Cuyer

Palm trees are so rooted in L.A.'s mythos, real ones are practically invisible to the natives. As ingeniously designed as flamingos or Q-Tips, no fewer than 50,000 grace L.A.'s streets, some of them upward of 120 feet tall. The lion's share were planted for the 1932 Olympics, but some 150-year-old specimens were introduced by settlers who lined the entrances to their ranches with them so that visitors could follow the trees to their homes. All of this despite the fact that L.A.'s "official" tree is the coral and only one species of palm (Washingtonia filifera) is native to Southern California. (None, by the way, bear coconuts, but most produce dates, which attract certain elements of the city's vibrant rodent population.)

L.A. prunes its palms every five to seven years. You may have noticed of late trucks with buckets attached to telescoping arms prowling palm-heavy boulevards such as Sunset and Ventura. It takes only 10 minutes for a professional trimmer to hack his way through a shaggy Syagrus romanzoffianum, but the change to the palm and the city's streetscape is startling. Shorn of most of their stately manes and drooping dead fronds, the trees look like unhappy patrons who drew the new guy at Supercuts. But it's all for the good, says Bob Kennedy, chief forester for the city. "We like an almost flat, even trim, maybe a 50-degree angle," Kennedy notes, as if explaining the particulars of Jennifer Aniston's latest coif. Pruning also allows crews to inspect for fungal damage that may presage so-called sudden crown drop, which recently has caused some of Beverly Hills' Canary Island palms to quite literally lose their heads.

Apart from the aesthetic benefits, there is a more practical purpose of pruning: getting rid of rat nests. As Kennedy points out, "most of the palms provide an ideal housing environment for rats. They've got all the debris rats need to live in, plus [date] seeds, so the food is up there. What people don't realize is how much rats help the environment, with all that they scavenge and clean up." (Not in my tree they won't, mister.)

Too, there is serendipity to the trimming process: Den mothers tag along behind the crews, gathering fallen fronds to feed Scouting's unending hunger for crafts materiel. (Rainy day project tip: curved palm bark serves as a lovely "sail" for your budding Cub's model Chinese junk.)

It doesn't make much sense until you think about it, but palms are actually part of the grass family. Sturdy members. Viewed in the near distance from my balcony like an establishing shot from "Fantasy Island," a quintet of them bows and sways defiantly, their fronds whipping in the Santa Anas. Kennedy has only "seen about four of them fall over in the course of working at this job. The vascular bundling of the base and bulky trunks provide stability and allow them to bend so they can survive in the winds." Indeed, last November a tree trimmer in Encino was trapped for nearly an hour in the crown of a 40-foot palm when winds gusting to 60 mph pinned him behind a few large fronds. The palm was unperturbed; the trimmer had to be rescued by the Fire Department.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|