Friday, January 13, 2012

Face palm

The "face palm" is that I wrote this last year and never posted it:

I really love where I live. This was taken looking east down the street at sunrise in early October.

I went to a talk recently that changed the way I look at the two main species of palm I see every day around the desert.

Now I notice the differences and I feel confident knowing which palm is which!

Desert ecologist Jim Cornett -- an expert on all things desert, and an expert expert on palms and snakes -- gave the talk about palms to the local horticultural society.

Here in California, our native palm is Washingtonia filifera, the desert fan palm. Cornett says our palm is special for a number of reasons: Its signature "skirt" of fronds that it wears. Its frost hardiness. Its size -- biggest (mass) native palm in the United States.

Then there's Washingtonia robusta, the Mexican fan palm. It's indistinguishable from the desert fan palm when the two are juveniles, but once they mature, the differences are striking. Have you ever seen a reeeeeaaaallly tall fan palm with a slender trunk? It's W. robusta. Our desert fan palm W. filifera can reach about 50 feet, but the Mexican fan palm can be up to 100 feet tall. Also, the Mexican fan palm is obviously skinny compared to the desert fan palm. The differences become very apparent when you see two mature specimens next to each other.

So ...

Washingtonia filifera: Large girth, magnificent plume, dry fronds against trunk, medium height.
Washingtonia robusta: Skinnier trunk, smaller plume, loses fronds easily, super-duper tall. We have nine of them in our backyard.

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