By Kelly StewartAlthough the redwoods (Sequoia spp.) were declared the official California State Tree in 1937, it could be said that Southern California has its own symbolic tree — the fan palm.
Two fan palm species within the Washingtonia genus are routinely associated with California, and visions of blue skies with towering skinny palm trees lining sunny streets make many people think of our state. Fan palms are native to our area (really one of the only indigenous palm trees that we have in the U.S.) and are popular landscaping trees.
We have Mexican fan palms (Washingtonia robusta) and California fan palms (Washingtonia filifera) growing throughout our neighborhood and the two are closely related and similar in appearance. Both fan palms grow very tall, with some soaring to more than 100 feet, and they have fruit that is edible.
The California fan palm has a more robust trunk, white flowers and filaments between the leaflets (filifera means thread-bearing) while the Mexican fan palm is taller, has orangey-pink flowers and is more common near the coast.
The genus Washingtonia is named for George Washington. Both species are cultivated in tropical climates worldwide.