Start watching
Tending Nature show poster

Tending Nature

Start watching

Southland Sessions

Start watching

Earth Focus

Start watching

Reporter Roundup

Start watching

City Rising

Start watching

Lost LA

Start watching
Your donation supports our high-quality, inspiring and commercial-free programming.
Support Icon
Learn about the many ways to support KCET.
Support Icon
Contact our Leadership, Advancement and Special Events teams.

A palm


I pass by a slowly dilapidating office building on my walk to and from the office at city hall. It's a mean little box crowding the sidewalk, separated from the concrete by two or three feet of abandoned landscaping. Except I occasionally pass a man and a woman poking with shovels and a hoe at the weeds and ivy. They aren't gardening. They're keeping the landscape at bay.I've passed by so often and for so long without looking that I've forgotten, too, what had been planted there deliberately. Until I noticed that four small palms, their corrugated, tapering trunks ending in characteristic green fans, had volunteered. It's likely that the palms had propagated from the grounds of the neighboring building. But I don't know.

The whorl of fronds springing from a fan palm's heart leave a pattern. It's expressed in the Fibonacci sequence of the remnant petioles, rough and spiky, that plate the trunk after the fan-shaped fronds have withered or been cut. The trunks of these volunteer palms express a universal abstraction. Numbers are rooted in nature's spirals.

The man and the woman returned a few days ago, and the next time I passed, each of the palms - the tallest about 5 feet - was lopped off, crownless. Sawn cleanly, I suppose, with a power tool midway down. Cut that way, the palms presented their cores as specimens for inspection. Inner spirals were there, too, coiled as tightly as watch springs.

I don't know what the distracted gardeners thought. The decapitation of the palms reduced them to posts, took away their presence as vegetation, but it didn't kill them. In a day, an inch of pale blade rose from the cores of the palms. Within a week, more curved segments spiraled up from the cut. The segments turned a sickly, greenish white, added more height, bent outward, steadied into bright tropical green, and unfolded as fans one by one.

These palms are, I guess, weeds of a sort, to be cut down as thoughtlessly as the thistles and wild oats that have crowded out most of the ivy in the landscaping. And I do not take the persistence of the palms, despite so much careless handing, as any message. Nature doesn't offer me hope.

The self-planted palms were always themselves; subjected to nature and us, but never mere things. They were beautiful before. They were beautiful while they lingered headless. They are beautiful still.

The image on this page was taken by flickr user Steve Jurvetson. It is used under a Creative Commons License.

Support Provided By
Support Provided By
Read More
People pull up in their vehicles for Covid-19 vaccines in the parking lot of The Forum in Inglewood, California on January 19, 2021. | FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images

L.A. County Expands COVID Vaccines to Residents 65 And Older

L.A. County began scheduling COVID-19 vaccination appointments for those aged 65 and older today, but limited supplies and uncertainty about future allocations has left the inoculation effort shrouded in doubt.
Bill Kobin - hero image

Public Media and KCET Legend Bill Kobin Dies at 91

William H. “Bill” Kobin, a public media icon who helped build PBS flagship station KCET into a Los Angeles powerhouse, airing news programs like the acclaimed “Life & Times” and helping to launch Huell Howser’s career, has died.
Pupils listen to school lessons broadcast over a solar radio in Dalu village, Tana River County, Kenya, November 28, 2020. | Thomson Reuters Foundation/Benson Rioba

With Schools Shut by Pandemic, Solar Radios Keep Kenyan Children Learning

Solar-powered radios have been distributed to the poorest homes that lack electricity access, with lessons broadcast daily during the COVID-19 crisis — and perhaps beyond.