City officials estimate that over the next five years, the region's palm trees will die so quickly that it could take at least 30, perhaps even 50, years to replace them all, the Los Angeles Times reported. And that replacement is unlikely to happen.
Palm trees aren’t native to L.A. In fact, their history in the City of Angels only goes back to the 19th century.
In an effort to seduce newcomers as they moved west, city planners imported palms from all over the world. They blossomed along the sides of the city’s freeways and quickly came to represent L.A.’s decentralized layout. As southern California became the epicenter of film production, filmmakers began to use the palm tree as an emblem of the city.
The mission to plant palms renewed in the 1930s with the advent of the golden age of Hollywood. In 1931 alone, L.A.’s forestry division planted an estimated 25,000 trees throughout the city. Today, many of these same palm trees welcome visitors as soon as they step out of LAX and continue to escort them as they drive throughout the city.
However, in recent years, the South American palm weevil and Fusarium fungus have been attacking LA’s palm trees. The beetle crossed into southern California — where it has no natural enemies — in 2011 and wreaked havoc upon the flora. Several other types of fungi, along with old age, risk wiping out L.A.’s palm population.
But as temperatures in the city continue to climb and the price tag on palm trees soar (the most expensive can cost up to $20,000), local officials want to replace the plants with something more practical.
“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,” Elizabeth Skrzat, programme director for City Plants, told The Guardian.
Palm trees are, admittedly, not the best choice for a city looking to combat smog. In terms of mitigating the effects of pollution, palm trees act more like grass than trees. City officials have decided to replace them with native trees that need less water and add more oxygen to the air.
The argument has left many concerned about the future of the palm trees in L.A. Although they will likely remain in the city over the next few decades, within the next century, they could disappear.
Others are less cynical, believing that homeowners will continue to plant their own palms and keep the trees alive in the city. And while officials will not replace every palm tree that dies out, it has identified six historic areas, including Hollywood and downtown, where they will maintain the trees.
Preservation or practicality — L.A. and its residents have a choice to make.