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Magnificent California Fan Palms

The beautiful California fan palms dot the landscapes of this great state mostly in the desert like interior.

Desert fan and cotton fan palms are also used as common names for these trees.

The Mexican fan palm is often confused with it as they are members of the same family and are very similar in appearance.

This palm is the only native to the state where the other is native to Mexico. 

Two-Headed Palm Tree, Cottonwood Spring Oasis, Joshua Tree National Park, California

Some of the confusion lies in the fact that there are actually more Mexican fan palms close to the ocean in California than the native species.


California fan palms have fairly large khaki to grayish green color leaves that can measure 6-8 ft wide on the larger trees.

They are almost circular shape with the tips segmented more than halfway into the leaf.

This causes them to have a sort of droopy look.

You can tell them apart from their cousins by the white fiber like threads between the segments on the leaves.

You'll have to be careful,there are some sharp reddish color spines attached to the leaf bases.

These trees are a bit shorter than their Mexican cousins in overall height, coming in at up to 70 feet tall.

California Fan Palm- Washingtonia filifera
Washingtonia filifera - Palm tree

They have them beat in width getting to be 3-4 feet thick in the trunk.

The California native is also more cold tolerant withstanding temps to 22°F.

Their old leaves will not shed on their own. Instead they’ll turn brown and then hang along the edge of the trunk. With multiple layers of leaves over many years they can get quite an impressive skirt on them.

The skirts aren’t that great looking up close so if you place one in your yard you will probably want to prune off the old leaves after they have turned brown.

Viewing from a distance in a cityscape, lining streets or in a natural setting the skirts can be much more appreciated.

IMGP4322 Bouquet of California Fan Palm and Camphor

Of course if the skirts are allowed to develop they could become home to numerous critters, both good and bad.

Examples would be birds and bats on the good side, snakes and rats on the not so good side.

Quick info: Scientific name    Washingtonia filifera

  • 50 ft tall, 10-16 ft wide   single trunk
  • Minimum temp 22°F    zones 7-11 in dry climates, 8-11 in wetter climates
  • Full sun, drought tolerant, mildly salt tolerant
  • Any type of well drained soil
California Fan Palm Tree - Medium

Growth of California Fan Palms

The California fan palms grow mainly in the desert near underground water sources. These are the ones you’ll see growing in Death Valley, and the more interior locations of Baja California and Arizona.

They prefer the arid growing conditions but can adapt to many and do have some salt tolerance.

Well drained soil of any types is a must for this drought tolerant palm.

They will, however look better if they are fed and watered a bit more regularly.

They will get some very long yellowish sprays of white flowers that will turn into small brown to black fruits when ripe.

California Fan Palms

These guys are slower growing and can live anywhere from 80-250 years.

So impressive are these trees that some of the ones planted way back where moved not once but twice.

See the picture below on the right. Here's one of the trees making it's first move many years ago. 

California fan palms are very impressive looking especially with skirts attached making them appear even larger.

They will over power smaller landscapes with their size and are much better suited to large areas where their looks can be admired from a distance.

They make quite a statement when used to line streets.

Is your yard large enough to handle one of these?

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NOTE :  About Buying Palms

If you are looking to buy palm trees of any kind then I would highly recommend purchasing through the Real Palm Tree Store.

They are a huge nursery based in Florida with connections to many quality growers.

Whether you are ordering from inside the United States, Canada or another part of the world-- ordering one tree for your landscape or many for a commercial project-- I’m confident you won’t be disappointed.

Their customer service is second to none; all products are high quality and backed by a money back 100% satisfaction guarantee.

Make sure to visit real palm trees, ask questions and read the reviews before buying anywhere else.

Palm Tree Store

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You may also find these articles helpful:

Large palms , medium or small kinds and cold hardy types will list the varieties commonly used in landscaping under each category.

Best Indoors palms has a list of the easiest ones to grow in your home or office.

Growing gives definitions for plant hardiness zones, soil types and other commonly used garden terminology.

Fertilizing teaches how to read the package, what to look for, determining the correct amount to use and where to place.

Planting helps to explain the process for either container or field growing palms.

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Palm Tree Passion > Types of Palm Trees > California Fan Palms