Trees of Curtis Park: Palms bring exotic, tropical feel to city, neighborhood landscape

Palms are sometimes considered unsuitable for our urban forest, as some believe they do not provide shade, collect rainwater or release oxygen as well as other trees do.

However, studies have documented that palms provide about the same benefits as most other trees. A study in Santa Monica showed that Canary Island date palms produced a significant value for the city in terms of shade cast, pollution reduced and storm water collected.

Palms tend to have smaller canopies than most other trees, but more of them can be planted to derive the same benefits. Their adventitious root system causes little sidewalk/hardscape damage.

They can be planted in narrow street medians where no other tree species would fit.

Palms bring that exotic, tropical motif to the landscape. The towering, 60-foot tall, California fan palms are the dominant street trees surrounding the State Capitol in downtown Sacramento.

The California fan palm, Mexican fan palm and the Canary Island date palm are the three most popular palms planted throughout Sacramento. They are drought-tolerant and don’t mind the scorching summer heat.

Palm trees have a long connection to the Curtis Park neighborhood. William Curtis apparently had at least one palm on his farm in the 19th century.

At one time, palm trees lined both sides of Marshall Way in the West Curtis Oaks subdivision, until pruning spread disease and wiped out many of them. Today, the lone survivor stands in front of 2100 Marshall Way. Other remnants of the palmlined streetscapes of an earlier era can be found in the 2100, 2300 and 2600 blocks of Portola Way, the 2800 block of Marshall Way and the east side of 21st Street, between Marshall and Portola ways.

Palms are susceptible to nutritional deficiencies not commonly found on other landscape trees. The use of palm-special fertilizer is recommended. It is better to prevent nutrient deficiencies rather than treat them after they occur because in many cases recovery can take two to three years.

Palms require little pruning to achieve and maintain optimal growth. Palm pruning involves the removal of dead fronds, flowers, fruit, stems or loose petioles. It is best for the palm if green fronds remain intact. Removal of green fronds should never occur above a horizontal line drawn across the base of the crown.

Over-pruning is detrimental to a palm’s health, slowing the growth of the palm and attracting pests.

When pruning palms that are susceptible to fusarium wilt, avoid the use of chain saws because they can create wounds and spread the disease.

Handsaws should be used in pruning palms. Saws should be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected before pruning each palm. Remove all sawdust and other particles and then soak the saw for 10 minutes in a 1-to-3 pine oil to water solution or undiluted, full-strength household bleach.

Fusarium wilt – a lethal, vascular wilt disease – is primarily restricted to Canary Island date palms, although California fan palms can contract this disease under some circumstances. Once the diseased palm is removed, only a species of palm resistant to fusarium can be planted back. As a result, Canary Island date palms continue to disappear from the neighborhood.

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