By: Mary Ellen Ellis
Also known as the desert fan palm, the California fan palm is a grand and beautiful tree that is perfect for dry climates. It is native to the Southwest U.S. but is used in landscaping as far north as Oregon. If you live in an arid or semiarid climate, consider using one of these tall trees to anchor your landscape.
The California fan palm (Washingtonia filifera) is a tall palm tree native to southern Nevada and California, western Arizona, and the Baja in Mexico. Although its native range is limited, this grand tree will thrive in any dry to semi-dry climate, and even at elevations up to 4,000 feet. It naturally grows near springs and rivers in the desert and will tolerate an occasional frost or snow.
California fan palm care and growing is easy once the tree is established, and it can make a stunning centerpiece for a large space. It is important to keep in mind that this tree is big and not meant for small yards or gardens. It is most often used in parks and open landscapes, and in larger yards. Expect your fan palm to grow to a final height of anywhere between 30 and 80 feet (9 to 24 meters).
If you do have space for a California fan palm, and the right climate, you couldn’t ask for a more majestic landscaping tree. And caring for California fan palms is mostly hands off.
It needs a spot with full sun, but it will tolerate a variety of soils and salt along the ocean coast. As a desert palm, of course, it will tolerate drought fairly well. Water your palm until it is established and then only water occasionally, but deeply, especially during very dry conditions.
The round, fan-shaped leaves of the tree, which give it its name, will turn brown each year and remain as a shaggy layer along the trunk as it grows. Some of these dead leaves will drop off, but to get a clean trunk, you will need to prune them off annually. As your palm grows to its full height, you may want to call in a tree service to do this chore. Otherwise, your California fan palm will continue to grow at up to three feet (1 meter) per year and give you a tall, beautiful addition to the landscape.
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Name: Lin Vosbury
Sebastian, Florida (Zone 10a)
I'm an old gal who still loves playing in the dirt!
Playing in the dirt is my therapy . and I'm in therapy a lot!
Looking at the trunks and crowns of the pictured palms I would rule out W. Filifera (known for very thick trunks and a heavy canopy of leaves). That would leave them to be pure W. Robusta or the common hybrid cross of the two often called W. Filibusta.
And here is a group of plants from that same population, which lies at the extreme southern end of the plant's range.
This site is discussed in this publication, if you really want to see the gory details.
The stem on robusta tends to be narrower but it also tends to be somewhat tapered (twice as wide at the bottom as it is at the top?). I'm not really seeing that in the original photo but maybe it's the case.
As I said before I don't think the differences between the two plants (which you can generally boil down to one being bigger in trunk and crown) are all that important unless you're concerned about size. We have filiferas and hybrids of hybrids sprouting as volunteers everywhere around here. the birds transport seeds far and wide from plants in cultivation.
Some friends of ours used to haunt the canyons where the Washingtonias and Braheas grow together, so we got a taste of what they look like outside of human cultivation. Eagle eyes will discern a couple of Braheas in that landscape shot as well, they are the silver blue palms.
Plant California fan palm where the tree is exposed to bright sunlight. The palm thrives in rich, well-drained soil. Water California fan palm thoroughly immediately after planting. Soak the soil in a large circle around the tree and don't limit water to the trunk area only, as the roots spread a considerable area. After the first six to eight months, 1 inch of water per week is adequate. Remove shrubs, groundcovers and other plants growing within a 2- to 3-foot radius around the tree. Leave a 6- to 8-inch ring uncovered immediately around the base of the tree, which prevents the mulch from mounding at the base of the trunk. Refer to the fertilizer container for the exact rate of application.
Palms trees produce infertile fruit that will later drop and stain hard surfaces like concrete. Make sure your palm is planted far enough away from outdoor patios and decks.