There are many factors distinguishing California from other states. However, there is no way to deny palm trees come to mind when thinking about the Golden State.
I mean, they are everywhere: adorning boulevards, lining the freeway and beautifying public (and private) spaces. Their silhouettes are in the state’s license plates. Mega popular burger chain, In-N-Out, use them as a symbol. Even cell phone service providers dress their reception towers with meager, palm-like branches.
Most of the palms used for different purposes throughout the state are imports. But make no mistake; the West has its endemic palm. I am referring to the Desert Fan Palm (Washingtonia filifera), the largest native palm in the contiguous United States.
This species is surrounded by history and interesting facts as well. This is from where California takes its palm fame. Notorious cities such as Palm Springs get its name from the species’ common name; the scientific name honors George Washington, the first president of the United States.
The habitat of this palm is also peculiar. The primary populations are found in southwestern deserts, the majority of the time around spring fed oases.
This is exactly where I had an encounter with this native plan: at an oasis. Recently, I visited Palm Canyon, the world’s largest Fan Palm Oasis. This canyon is 15 miles long and is located within the Indian Canyons (Palm Springs). The Cahuilla Indians, owners of the land, consider the place sacred. The abundance of water allowed them to develop complex communities. They were able to grow crops and build irrigation systems. The fan palm itself was a source of food and the material used to create sandals, roofs and baskets. In other words, the area was fundamental to the survival of the tribe.
I was expecting to see barren walls, rocks and dust on this canyon (similar to the hike I once did in nearby Tahquitz Canyon). Before descending to the sandy bottom, there is a spot from where the canyon can be seen from a decent height. It is just a sea of green. There are thick, “hairy” palms extending in all directions. The creek, from where life emanates, was stagnant at several points.
Once in the canyon floor, the perspective was different. The palms are taller than you think. The dry branches, covering the trunk head to toe, are rougher than expected. Some palms were given a “haircut,” the dry branches were pruned in a really funny way. For some reason, the Lorax comes to mind while walking around these giants.
Even though the creek was not flowing at full force, the presence of water is everywhere. While hiking, I had to jump over small streams of water coming out from the soil or rocks. Lines of palms were coming down from the canyon walls. It was obvious there is water up there.
It was also interesting to notice several trunks (and entire) palms burned. Proof that this continues to be a harsh and difficult place in the middle of the desert.
My hike thru this oasis didn’t last long. After half an hour, we decided to go back to the trailhead. The winds were extremely strong. We felt like we were going to be hit by a falling branch or something worst. The dust and rock clouds were punishing us hard. I wanted to see more of the canyon (and the other canyons in the area) but the weather wasn’t cooperating.
Since then, I see the “iconic” California palms with different eyes.
Have you visited a palm oasis?