6HWbNHN-show-poster2x3-c7tgE2Y.png

Artbound

Start watching
MJ250sC-show-poster2x3-Bflky7i.png

Tending Nature

Start watching
Southland Sessions

Southland Sessions

Start watching
Earth Focus

Earth Focus

Start watching
5LQmQJY-show-poster2x3-MRWBpAK.jpg

Reporter Roundup

Start watching
City Rising

City Rising

Start watching
Lost LA

Lost LA

Start watching
Member
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, Membership and Special Events teams.

The Persistence of Palms in Los Angeles

Support Provided By

Palm Sunday -- when the pious receive a rib or two of pale yellow-green palm frond -- is April 13 this year. I'll be handed my fragment of palm by an usher at church, to be awkwardly held or folded into my jack pocket and forgotten there.

The adept in the pews during mass plait theirs into a cross -- a symbol bridging Palm Sunday and Good Friday.

Palm Sunday in Los Angeles briefly elevates the ubiquitous Mexican fan palm to something sacred. During the rest of the year, fan palms are just part of the landscape and not always appreciated. Kevin Roderick complained at LA Observed:

This native Angeleno has finally seen one too many palm trees. Granted, it has been awhile since I have lived elsewhere. Maybe I'm overdue. But some palm trees are just out of place, and for those we're starting a photo series ... I'll call Ridiculous Palm Trees.

Palms have a complicated history in Southern California (as Nathan Masters recounted on this blog). They intersect with the cultural ambiguities of an Anglo city dressed up in Latin exoticism (as Janet Owen Driggs noted).

Jared Farmer's Trees in Paradise explored palmy Los Angeles even more broadly, and in an interview earlier this year with Nathan Masters, Farmer argued:

Thanks to the entertainment industry, Mexican fan palms acquired associations with sex, glamour, and celebrity. As it happened, the city's roadside plantings achieved spectacular heights in the same era that Hollywood became a dominant force in global entertainment. All of those thousands of films and TV shows shot outdoors in postwar Los Angeles cemented an association in people's minds: tall, skinny palms = L.A. Mexican fan palms became the icon of verticality in the postwar metropolis, complementing the freeway, the icon of horizontality.

When I wrote about one of the city's oldest palms trees (now in Exposition Park), I found its history to be a lot like ours. That palm, I thought, came from somewhere else, moved around a lot, acquired significance from its different jobs, did some bit parts in the cavalcade of the city's self-promotion, took something from a nostalgia not entirely earned, and found a place finally to call home.

Spring is a season for endings and beginnings, and some of them are on my way to and from my cubicle at my City Hall in Lakewood. Back in 2010, I wrote about some palms in front of a building down the block from City Hall that have renewed themselves year after year. Their persistence continues.

I pass by a slowly dilapidating office building, I wrote in 2010. It's a mean little box of a building crowding the sidewalk, separated from the concrete by a sliver of mostly abandoned landscaping. I occasionally pass a man and a woman poking at the weeds and ivy with shovels and a hoe. The man and woman aren't gardening. They're keeping the ivy and the weeds at bay.

I've passed by the building so often without looking that I'd forgotten what has taken root in the strip of landscaping -- five small Mexican fan palms.

The man and the woman return to the front of the building from time to time since, and each time the five palms -- the tallest was originally about five feet -- have been lopped off, made crownless; sawn, I suppose, with a power tool. Cut that way, the stumps presented neat concentric cores of palm rolled as tightly as a watch spring.

I don't know what the distracted gardeners thought they were doing. Their repeated decapitations didn't kill the palms outright. In a few days, an inch of pale blade rose from the palm cores. Within a week, longer curved frond segments spiraled up from the cuts. The frond segments turned a sickly, greenish white, added more height, bent outward, steadied into tropical green, and unfolded as bright green fans.

This happens once a year now, although two of the five palms had given up their annual renewal by 2014. The other palms remain. I do not take their persistence as any sort of message. Nature isn't a metaphor for me. Nature doesn't offer me hope. Palm Sunday is a mistaken triumph, it turns out.

But the returning palms in their narrow space are beautiful while they grow. They were oddly beautiful while they lingered crownless. The palms are beautiful again and again.

Support Provided By
Read More
Perez takes a break during his therapy. He could barely breathe when he was admitted to Los Angeles County’s Harbor-UCLA Medical Center in early June of last year.

Learning to Live Again: A Lazarus Tale from the COVID-19 Front Lines

Vicente Perez Castro, a 57-year-old cook from Long Beach, could barely breathe when he was admitted to Los Angeles County’s Harbor-UCLA Medical Center. At a certain point, the doctors told his family that he wasn’t going to make it. Months later, here he was — an outpatient at Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center in Downey, the only public hospital in the county whose main mission is patient rehab.
A keychain hangs from a lock on a doorknob.

Landlords Can Sign Up for Rent-Guaranteed Program to House Homeless Angelenos During the Pandemic and Beyond

The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority today urged property owners to sign up for a program that matches landlords with people experiencing homelessness, with rent guaranteed by the government.
The fourth person from the left, Bii Gallardo help hold a banner that reads "DEFEND THE SACRED" during the L.A. Women’s March in January 2020.

Bii Gallardo: Building Relationships with Land to Fight For Climate Justice

“I’ve fallen in love with working with my community and working for social justice and environmental rights,” says Bii Gallardo. Those are the reasons why the Apache and Yaqui activist works so hard to recognize Indigenous voices and fight for environmental justice.