Arecaceae, California, California fan palm, Concourse of Music, Conservatory of Flowers, Golden Gate Bridge, Golden Gate Park, Hollywood sign, Los Angeles, Mission Dolores, palm trees, palms, San Francisco, Taube and Friend Families Palm Court
“It is good to know the truth, but it is better to speak of palm trees.”–Arab proverb
The palm trees entranced me when I first went to Los Angeles. My newcomer’s eyes drank in the variety: The thin and towering type with a bursting green cap of fronds. Ground-hugging shrubs with their spreading, spiky coronas, looking like huge half-buried pineapples. Ordinary tree-sized palms. They all added to the exotic glamour of the cityscape like the Hollywood sign.
But the day came when Ellay’s visual charms wore thin. The ubiquitous red-tiled Spanish roofs, the relentlessly glaring seasonless sun, and especially, those damned palm trees. Los Angeles was just a paved desert. What a contrast to San Francisco. Stately Victorians! The Golden Gate Bridge! The drama and, oh bless the day, cooler temperatures wrought by the iconic fog.
A NorCal friend gave me the grand tour, including a drive past Mission Dolores one evening. The basilica rose majestically over a wide thoroughfare with medians beautifully landscaped with—palm trees?! The classic feature of the desert and the tropics in San Francisco?
Oh, yes. After all, most palm varieties in California are imports. Only the California fan palm (Washingtonia filifera) is native.
I survived the shock and moved to Essef anyway. And eventually regained my appreciation for palms.
Like Los Angeles, San Francisco is decorated with palms. Not so spectacularly, perhaps, but an unpaved thumbnail of ground or even a planter in front of a building might succor a palm reaching shoulder height.
One recent weekend I got palm trees on the brain and headed for Golden Gate Park
and the Conservatory of Flowers. On the way I stopped for coffee at my usual place, and noticed for the first time a little pot with a 1′ palm winking over the register. Then it was on to the park, where, crossing the Concourse of Music, I beheld a stately formation of palms as if I’d never been there before. As for the conservatory itself, substantial specimens rise like sentinels among the trim lawns and vibrant flowers.
Inside, the Taube and Friend Families Palm Court displays enough palms to make a fortune-teller rich. Placards tell their lyrical names. Bamboo palm. Traveler’s palm. And palms do travel; there were Fiji fan and Seychelles stilt palms. I never thought of palms as colorful, but the Red Latan and orange collar palms showed a little razzle. On the diminutive end, there were pygmy date palm and miniature fishtail palm, as well as full-blown fishtail parlor palm. Writing a letter? Sealing-wax palm might come in handy. You could take a zombi palm on a zombie walk.
At closing time I reversed my path out of the park. A group of people were smiling and taking pictures in a thicket a bit uphill from the walkway—a thicket of, say, what are those trees now?
I would have liked to visit the palm thicket, but I was chilly in my layers of denim jacket, pullover, and flannel shirt. The temperature felt like it was dropping into the 50s. Oh, well, it was winter.
Even if it’s not always balmy, it’s always palmy on the unicoast.