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Palm Trees Felled by Decade of Disease Set to be Replaced in Santa Monica’s Palisades Park


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By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

August 29, 2019 -- After a decade of disease responsible for felling almost one of every three of the palm trees forming the historic colonnade in Santa Monica’s Palisades Park, the City is moving to restore the signature site.

If all goes as planned, the City will replace 56 palm trees along the west side of Ocean Avenue removed throughout the last decade because of disease, a City report to the Landmarks Commission earlier this month said.

Most of the trees being replaced were Canary Island Date Palms sickened by a contagious and almost always fatal fungal disease that struck Southern California -- as famous for its swaying palms as its sunny skies -- hard around 2007).

Palisades Park Postcard
Palisades Park's palm trees have been featured in pictures and postcards for decades.

Santa Monica is replacing the extracted Ocean Avenue palms with a combination of three different species the City hopes will avert an epidemic of the vascular wilt disease, “Fusarium Oxysporum.”

The disease can take several years to kill an infected palm and is currently untreatable.

None of the newcomers are of the variety impacted by the disease, said Constance Farrell, a City spokesperson.

The new additions are to be 30 Date Palms, 17 Desert Fan Palms and nine Double Washingtonia hybrids. The first was selected because its appearance is similar to the Canary Island palm.

The other two “will create diversity and add resilience to the park’s palm population,” the report said.

“The introduction of the new palm species to the park will help to avoid an epidemic of the disease as there is significant risk with in-kind replacement of newly planted Canary Island Palms that may also become similarly infected,” staff said.

The palm colonnade actually consists of 187 planting sites, or tree locations, but -- because of the removal of so many diseased palms -- only currently has 131 palms.

Date Palms along Ocean Avenue in Palisades Park About 17 percent of Palisades Park -- a landmark -- is made up of the Canary Island Date Palm species, Farrell said.

The Landmarks Commission gave the nod to replacing 20 of the palms throughout Palisades Park in 2015, but the total has since grown to the present 56 sites.

“We inspect the park annually and remove those either dead or nearly dead,” Farrell said. “That’s why there are vacant palm locations that are in need of replanting to maintain Palisades Park's historic palm colonnade.”

(Left) A declining date palm with a dead one to the right. (2007 image courtesy of the City of Santa Monica)

A decade ago, the City began removing 44 of the palms from Palisades Park that were either dead or dying because of the fungus ("City Begins to Replace Palisades Park’s Signature Trees," September 17, 2007)

.The fungus killing some of the approximately 300 Canary Island Date Palms in Palisades Park only attacks the specific species. Staff said the disease produces air-borne sores which are short-lived but live in the soil and plant tissue for long periods.

Its trademark: a wilting and a dried-out appearance. If the sickened trees aren’t removed, the disease can spread, according to experts.


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