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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 tree.

 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. 

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.

2 headed California fan palm treeCalifornia Fan Palm Trees

CC  Original photo by Ken Lund 

Appearance

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 Tree with full skirt- Washingtonia filiferaCalifornia Fan Palm Tree with full skirt

Photo found here             CC

California Fan Palm Tree- Washingtonia filiferaCalifornia Fan Palm Leaf with Fibers

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.

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.

California Fan Palm TreeCalifornia Fan Palm Tree

Original Photo                CC Licence

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. 

Group of California Fan Palm TreesGroup of California Fan Palm Trees

CC    Original Photo Here     

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 type 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


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 as in the picture  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.

California Fan Palm being moved in 1889California Fan Palm being moved in 1889

 CC  Photo by digitallibrary.usa.edu

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?

Explore more kinds of palm trees

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  • Travelers Palm

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