Why palm trees make less sense in a warming world

A red sunset with palms silhouetted.
Palms are silhouetted by the setting sun as it lights up the clouds with a dramatic red color after a mostly gloomy day in Huntington Beach on Oct. 31, 2022.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
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Good morning. It’s Monday, Oct. 2. Here’s what you need to know to start your day.

  • Palm trees don’t work in a warming world
  • Newsom tapped Laphonza Butler for Feinstein’s Senate seat
  • U2 met its match at the Las Vegas Sphere
  • And here’s today’s e-newspaper

Never send a palm to do a tree’s job

They’re an iconic part of life in Southern California, lining local streets, swaying high in the sky. But our beloved palms are all style, no substance.

In a hotter, wetter, more extreme world, here’s what you want from your urban forest, according to experts: a diverse mix of native trees that provide ample shade, pull carbon from the air, manage storm- or groundwater, and provide other natural benefits to boost street-level climate resiliency. Palms don’t check those boxes.


The towering plants are nearly all transplants, imported to the region in the 1800s and 1900s as living street decor. Most of the palms we pass by today don’t produce fruit. They also aren’t great at pulling carbon from the air. And they can be death traps for tree trimmers.

I’ll throw a bit more shade at palms — something they barely do. They are a bit like taking a chimney sweep for your sunny beach day instead of an umbrella.

Also, they’re not even trees! (Palms are genetically closer to grass.)

Yes, SoCal’s plethora of palms is a cultural fixture, with cameos in TV and films, on In-N-Out cups and on people’s skin. But the non-native non-trees could see their high profiles fade as cities reevaluate how best to improve shade canopies and mitigate the effects of climate change, Times reporter Dorany Pineda found.

Heat kills more people in the U.S. each year than flooding, hurricanes and tornadoes combined. And residents in lower-income, non-white communities disproportionately bear the brunt of extreme heat, due in part to a lack of tree shade in those neighborhoods.

Through that lens, palms are making less and less sense to plant or maintain. Some cities, including Beverly Hills and Long Beach, are contemplating pulling back on palms and removing those that don’t have historic or economic value.

“There are far, far too many palms,” arborist and Long Beach resident Ben Fisher told Dorany.


The most common palm dotting SoCal sidewalks is the Mexican fan palm, which can grow up to 100 feet tall. That’s one factor in their dominance: they grow tall but not wide, so they’re easy to plant close together and no other trees can get between them and the sun.

But palms could see their high profiles fade over time as California cities reevaluate how best to improve shade canopies and boost street-level climate resiliency.

“Experts said that adapting to climate change will require cities to preserve trees when possible, plant a diversity of trees and opt for large ones when it’s appropriate, and rethink how they fit into urban plans,” Dorany wrote.

You can read her full reporting on rethinking palms here.

Today’s top stories

Laphonza Butler, President of EMILY's List, speaks during an event.
(Susan Walsh / Associated Press)

Newsom tapped Laphonza Butler for Feinstein’s Senate seat

Congress avoided a shutdown. What comes next?

Remembrances for Dianne Feinstein continue to pour in


  • Razor wire and soldiers fail to deter migrants: Some 93,000 migrants traveling in families were taken into custody in August — the most ever recorded in a month.
  • L.A. received its 20th bus of migrants courtesy of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. This one carried 16 children among its passengers.

It’s time for October baseball

More big stories


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Commentary and opinions

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They trusted the Beverly Hills watch dealer. Then their luxury timepieces vanished. The collapse of the Timepiece Gentleman is a cautionary tale full of contradictions. A gaudy lifestyle that belied growing money problems. A fall that unfolded in front of millions but received little media attention. An alleged culprit who bounces between apologies and denials.

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For your downtime

Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton and Bram van den Berg of U2 perform during opening night of U2:UV Achtung Baby Live at Sphere.
(Kevin Mazur / Getty Images for Live Nation)

Going out

Staying in

And finally ... a great photo

Show us your favorite place in California! Send us photos you have taken of spots in California that are special — natural or human-made — and tell us why they’re important to you.

A deer grazes on grass on a hill overlooking Avalon Harbor on a sunny summer day in Catalina Island
(Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times)

Today’s great photo is from L.A. Times photographer Allen J. Schaben. A mule deer grazes on a hill overlooking Avalon Harbor in August 2020. Officials have proposed a bold idea: Hunt the invasive deer via helicopter.

Have a great day, from the Essential California team


Ryan Fonseca, reporter
Karim Doumar, head of newsletters

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