Most famous cities have their own distinctive skylines. With Los Angeles, what that looks like is a little different. The city sprawls far and wide, but few buildings are notably tall. What most people picture when they think of Los Angeles are its iconic palm trees. Oddly enough, only the California fan palm is native to the area. Developers and city officials imported all different varieties to see what would take in the late 19th and early 20th century, according to the L.A. Times, as a way to beautify the growing urban region.
The trees flourished, but they're now facing new challenges: climate change, fungus, and bugs.
The South American palm weevil made it to Sand Diego in 2011, and though it travels relatively slowly, it's making its inevitable way towards L.A. The Fusarium fungus has also become more prevalent in California, where it attacks overwatered palms and can even spread on pruning equipment, like chainsaws. It's estimated that the trees are disappearing at such a rate that if things continue the same way for the next five years, it will take 30 to 50 years to replace them.
Climate change is effecting the palms in a more roundabout way. The Guardian reports that temperatures in the city are expected to rise, as they will everywhere else. As beautiful as the tall palms along Hollywood Boulevard are, they provide very little shade and require a fair amount of water to thrive. Elizabeth Skrzat, program director for the city’s tree planting arm, explains that officials are reluctant to replace the dying palms with more of the same.
“Palms are decorative and iconic, but 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,” said Skrzat.
Skrzat doesn't seriously think that the palms trees won't continue somewhere within the city, which thrives on tourism and palm trees selfies as much as it does on the film business. But they will otherwise be replaced with native plants that need less water and spread their branches a little further.
David Fink, a policy director for a non-profit that works on climate solutions for southern California, told the Guardian that it's time to make the change.
“The iconic association of palm trees with Los Angeles is a positive," he said. "But we’re now in a period where we have a better understanding of what’s needed. It makes sense that we replace the palms with trees that have wide expanses of shade and help cool things down.” He added that heat kills more people than any other weather-related event in the world, explaining, "Trees have a much harder time growing and thriving in cities today because the climate is much harsher.”
Things are changing fast, and even old Hollywood's gotta keep.