Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Search Challenge (5/6/15): Victorians and palms trees? A thing?

As I travel through California... 

I'm struck by how many palm trees were planted in the Victorian age.  Many Victorian houses seem to have very mature palm trees planted at the entryway or directly in front of the house.  

When I go on my runs through the hills above LA or at home in the hills near San Francisco, it's not uncommon for me to find one (or commonly, a pair) of palm trees growing in what seems to be the middle of the forest.  It's always a bit of a shock to find a palm so obviously out of place.  But if you poke around a bit, you can almost always find a nearby foundation--the trace of a family that once lived in this place, house and home swallowed up by time, but the palms remain.  

As you can see from this selection of images, palms were often planted, and then grew into very tall trees, sometimes towering WAAY over the buildings were they planted beside.  Here's what some of the plantings looked like originally:  

And then later, these small trees grew a bit more... 

And then a bit more, becoming a giant fence of slender poles.  

When walking by some Victorian homes with extravagantly tall palm trees, I began to wonder why they'd plant such trees.  I think they're beautiful (but then, I grew up in LA where every street has a palm or two), but they're also very odd.  

This wonderment leads to today's question: 
1.  What was it with the Victorians and palm trees?  Why were so many planted near their houses?  What was their thing about palms? 
Obviously, this is an open-ended question that might not have a crisp answer.  But this is a nice example of a question that isn't easily amenable to a simple search.  You actually have to root around a little bit to understand what's going on here.  Why such an interest?  Was it symbolic?  Was it practical?  Was it an ostentatious display of wealth?  

And did the Victorians do this everywhere?  Or just in California?  

As we discussed yesterday, this also might be a problem that requires some thinking about the vocabulary.  How would you describe this Challenge to someone else?  

Let us know how you solved the problem:  What worked?  What didn't work?  How did you discover that valuable resource that cracked the problem for you? 

Search on! 


  1. Good Day, Dr. Russell and everyone!

    Very interesting topic. While reading, I just noticed how many time we take for granted many things. Here in Puebla we have some palms too and they have been here since I remember. Never thought why are here or since when. I now have another thing to SearchReSearch. Sadly, here many times if Palm or Tree needs to be removed, it is gone not like many other sites that take care of them Some of the Palms.

    Luckily I had some seeds on the soil and now we have one of our own and it is now giving new ones.

  2. Here my initial questions to start this search. As you said it's open-ended therefore I need several avenues to explore. I guess one could say this is a wide brush challenge rather than a deep and narrow search.

    Why were they called palm- religious, form?

    Where can they grown, type of soil, little hydration, average temperature, shallow roots? How long to grow to mature tree?

    Original source, name, Latin name?

    What purpose/benefit shade, status, beauty, fast growing, no/low maintenance, easily grown from seed? Anything negative?

    When did they start appearing in home gardens?

    1. These are great initial questions -- but be sure to stay focused on the Victorian connection. How would THEY think about these things? (e.g., where can they be grown, purpose, benefit, status, when did they start appearing in home gardens..)

  3. Searched:

    [Victorians AROUND(3) California Palms]

    only one is native to the state Links to more information and provides data too. And says: "The article notes that many attribute the 1932 Summer Olympics (video clip and photos, more photos) as the reason for a significant number of palms around Los Angeles, but counters that Los Angeles' first forestry chief, L. Glenn Hall was behind "the $100,000 program that planted some 40,000 trees in total was part of a larger unemployment relief program, funded by a $5 million bond issue.""

    Also in the site Ctrl-F "Victorian" says: "exotic plantings proved one's status as a monied collector."

    [Victorian homes AROUND(3) California Palms]

    California's eighteenth century Franciscan missionaries were the first to plant palms ornamentally, perhaps in reference to the tree's biblical associations....The orange tree was also once a ubiquitous feature of the landscape and a symbol loaded with cultural meaning.

    [Palms victorian age]
    Horticultural hobbies were such an intrinsic part of 19th-century life that the architecture reflected this penchant for plants. NY Times article

    [victorian age palm importance] Not sure it will work.

    [palm significance victorian ages]

    Palm Branch (Symbol) wikipedia

    [palm tree meaning 1837..1901] didn't work.

    [palm tree symbolism] didn't work.

    Victorian Gardens

    [victorian gardens intext:palms]

    "Palm Trees Shivering in a Surrey Shrubbery"- A History of Subtropical Gardening The association of palms with religion was part of their fascination for some Victorians. Also, text says:"This distinguished form of the palm, superior to all other plants, the noble bearing, the stem striving to reach the skies -- its nourishing fruits, the materials for clothing and shelter -- all these combined to create the sense of a higher being inherent in it, if not a godhead then surely the dwelling of the same. Minter (1990)"

    I'll be back with more!

  4. Query [ old victorian houses "palm trees"] > Third Result SERP

    I found an author that answers this question some time ago. Maureen Gilmer horticulture and landscape history author writing about California. The question posed in Yahoo was” why do old houses in California have two palm trees in front? She sums it up as “ Best Answer: As a California horticulture and landscape history author, I can confidently say that the two palm idea is rooted in an older Victorian idea. It was quite common to flank the entry steps to a Victorian house with urns planted with exotics like yucca or small palms. Therefore the practice continued into the 20th century because frankly, it's a monkey see - monkey do kind of thing.

    They used palms because these were cheap and could be grown quickly from seed. They survived due to tolerance of heat and our periodic California drought. Folks moving to this state from the East found palms to be the epitome of their new paradise, and planted them because they couldn't do so back East.”

    Her book “Redwood and Roses” provides snippet view only. She has written 20+ books on the subject qualify her as a credible source.

    1. Query [horticultural society history palm tree]

      Plants were trending in the 18th & 19th century as quoted “In the 18th and 19th centuries, plant collectors went on many exciting and dangerous voyages around the world”... “The Victorians had a passion for plants..Exotic plants such as palms provided a link, however weak, to wondrous lands...The association of palms with religion was part of their fascination for some Victorians.”

      Then we see in California the symbolism of the palm tree “Palm trees, it seems, do something else. They’re evocative. They’re transportative. They inspire us to dream big.”

      In this document there isn’t a victorian house to be seen but puts the planting of palm trees in a different perspective. “California’s first Thanksgiving service was held July 1, 1769, in a Southland park; and during the ceremony the Golden State’s first palm tree was planted.” [keyword horticultural society history palm tree]

      And for those who think snow and cold when it comes to Canada, surprise…

      (Book search seems to be working today)

    2. Okay I just noticed in the picture of Vancouver with the palm trees we have guys wearing toques, now that is Canadian.

    3. RRR - nice finds on San Diego & the northern palms, eh… Vancouver wouldn't be my first guess looking at this:
      1861 Beach Ave
      and there are 6 views of them thru time… April, 2009 - June, 2014
      (looked for the location after seeing this: smugmug from: Pacific Northwest Palm & Exotic Plant Society)
      fwiw - Maps Lite seems to be functioning at a higher level - more features working & accessible - & they seem to enjoy Vancouver!
      and - GOOG on the move in one of DrD's favorite locals…
      2300 Traverwood Drive

    4. The following post got dropped Wednesday. I am occasionally able to do book search but the 500 Internal Server Error is back today so I have called it a day.

      [I searched for more books and while I found a number of others I kept running into Error Message 500 Internal Error so I couldn't look at the books. I switched computers, switched networks, sign off Google to no avail. You can see some possibilities on this SERP Book Search Query [ "palm trees" "victorian homes"] Book Result> Napa has snippet quoting "To Victorians, palms were a symbol of wealth, suggesting travel to exotic climes, a thrill available only to the well heeled".That might be interesting.]

  5. "As we discussed yesterday, this also might be a problem that requires some thinking about the vocabulary. How would you describe this Challenge to someone else? " …seems like a good approach/strategy.
    decided to make the ~8800km trip east from L.A. to try and get a sense of Victorian motivation… then I wandered… or "rooted"
    Palm House, Kew Gardens
    why palms?… why kittens having tea? the Victorians had issues… they also had curiosity and a desire to escape the surrounding realities…
    or monkeys riding goats
    Queen Victoria & birds
    the mentality - "…reveal a desire to create simulations of a desired nature, one unattainable in the real world."
    this might encourage palm lust & bunnies in schools
    look for Damien Hirst
    anyway, led to this:
    NYT 1988
    to this:
    2 dis:
    Corbis search
    Otto Bettman
    II: a jewel of a find… well worth stalking the palms to stumble across this:
    check the "Eras" of the Victorian period - "The Victorian era of British history (and that of the British Empire) was the period of Queen Victoria's reign from 20 June 1837 until her death, on 22 January 1901"
    eras - a GREAT SITE!
    or by theme - ⌘-F Origins of Google
    a Victorian mecca… and why are palms there? guess palms are exotic
    Cali specific -
    L.A., City of Palms - KCET
    a native example
    why did Bob Ford paint a palm on the Millennium Falcon?

    from Wiki:
    "Human use of palms is as old or older than human civilization itself, starting with the cultivation of the date palm by Mesopotamians and other Middle Eastern peoples 5000 years or more ago.
    "One could go as far as to say that, had the date palm not existed, the expansion of the human race into the hot and barren parts of the "old" world would have been much more restricted. The date palm not only provided a concentrated energy food, which could be easily stored and carried along on long journeys across the deserts, it also created a more amenable habitat for the people to live in by providing shade and protection from the desert winds . In addition, the date palm also yielded a variety of products for use in agricultural production and for domestic utensils, and practically all parts of the palm had a useful purpose."
    An indication of the importance of palms in ancient times is that they are mentioned more than 30 times in the Bible, and at least 22 times in the Quran."

  6. … didn't Jay Z have a tune about this… "I got 99 palms but a conifer ain't one, hit me…"
    maybe I am in a palm daze from the search…
    Arecaceae ~ 2600 species - Monopodial
    as a symbol
    in the kinda wild —
    palms in 3D from The Paul Wilhelm Grove, the largest part of the Thousand Palms Oasis in the Coachella Valley Preserve
    not far from 29 Palms

  7. 1. What was it with the Victorians and palm trees?

    Why were so many planted near their houses?

    What was their thing about palms?

    [palm tree fanciers historical]

    Los Angeles Review of Books. Piety and Perversity: The Palms of Los Angeles by Victoria Dailey

    Key phrase here is "the cultural iconography of the palm tree" and "palm myths"


    Victorians were mad about palms, and it is to their invention, the greenhouse, that we owe much of our palm legacy. These large structures built of cast iron and glass allowed the exotic flora of the world to grow and be seen throughout Europe and America — entire greenhouses were devoted to them. Evoking exotic climes, far-off colonies, and intrepid explorers, palms were emblematic of Victorian aspirations, and their biblical associations stirred the pious Victorian soul. A palm house was built at Kew Gardens in the 1840s; a large palm conservatory was on view at the Vienna World Exhibition in 1873; a decade later Emperor Franz Joseph commissioned a huge palm house at the Schönbrunn Palace, still the largest in Europe. At the United States Botanic Garden, a palm house was built in 1870. These are but a few examples of the Victorian palm mania. ...

    The craze for palms in Los Angeles began slowly, but once underway, when it became clear that LA could become one huge, open-air greenhouse, it barreled on, changing the landscape — and identity — of Los Angeles completely. The City of Angels became the perfect laboratory for the Victorian ideals of productivity, piety, and exotica, and it was here that palms began to represent all three. In the 1870s and 1880s, when the area’s fledgling cities were laid out, city planners at first selected many kinds of trees to line their new urban streets, choosing trees that provided shade from the glowing sun and that were aesthetically pleasing when viewed en masse. However, when they realized they could plant palms, Victorians went at it with gusto.

    I think this is most of the answer found in one swell foop.


  8. One more paragraph from the review of Piety and Perversity I previously mentioned in this brilliant long review

    As the old associations of biblical piety faded away; as the need to promote the city as a “semi-tropical” paradise became outmoded (especially when travel to Hawaii became commonplace) — and when Hollywood began to represent sin, taboo, and sexual openness — the palm was reinterpreted. No longer a link to the Bible or the far-off tropics, palms became a sexy, saucy symbol of a new culture of freedom, pleasure, and individuality. Desert palms could grow — and thrive — in an environment unlike the one in which they originated, much like the hopeful newcomers to the city. But despite their symbolism, palms only thrive in Los Angeles based on artificial conditions — they require water, lots of it, at least two or three times a week — and when abundant water arrived in Los Angeles from the Owens Valley in 1913 and the Colorado River in 1939, the palms’ future was assured.

    This is a really fascinating Challenge. Thanks


  9. if jtu's quote is correct, the palms of L.A. may fall victim to Gov. Brown's dictate… in spite of all the Colorado has done…

    … followup on the Vancouver art amongst the palms:
    A-maze-ing Laughter
    Yue Minjun (Chinese: 岳敏君; born 1962)

    some of the most famous L.A. Palms back in 1963: (the last went away in the 2000s)
    the Big W
    ""Santa Rosita Beach State Park" was actually a private estate locally known as "Portuguese Point" near Abalone Cove Shoreline Park (33°44′31″N 118°22′39″W), Rancho Palos Verdes. None of the "Big W" remains, with the last palm tree having fallen in the 2000s. However, in 2011, internet filmmaker James Rolfe and Price Morgan, following earlier efforts, found an angled palm tree stump on the location"
    wiki2 - wiki enhanced…IDNKT
    for comparison - Yue Minjun

  10. In case you have been affected by the 500 Internal Server Error in Google Books this was posted a few minutes ago on the Google Help Forum "I'm told by people within Google that there will be a fix posted. Terribly sorry for all the inconvenience. Unfortunately I don't have an exact ETA other than this was entirely accidental and they're going to fix it."

    There are 100s of people reporting a problem.

  11. I just had to share this link containing several images of homes in the 1800's. Some are majestic & the scenes are incredible. I really enjoyed this collection & yes palm trees are mentioned very briefly. I believe we've used the Water & Power Site for another challenge regarding trees as well.

  12. A search for [palms history] in Google Books brings up a new book called "Trees in paradise : a California history" by Jared Farmer.
    Page 337 on has a large section about palms. It's preview only but does show large sections of the book with tons of detail.
    A quick search of the SF public library catalogue reveals several copies available if Dan wanted to borrow it :)

  13. Moving picture of a Victorian palm… courtesy of RRR's link, another good find by her!
    "(1889) - View of a palm tree being moved to the front of the Arcade Depot on Fifth Street and Central Avenue on land that was once occupied by the Wolfskill Adobe."
    same palm, 1914
    "(1914) - Horse and buggies are parked outside the Arcade Station in its last year of operations at Alameda between 4th and 5th St. The singular Arcade palm tree can be seen in front of the station, the same tree seen being planted in the earlier 1889 photo."
    the backstory
    palm from the Coliseum
    palm @ the La Grande Station ~1899
    were those palm trees?
    "Oil was discovered by Edward L. Doheny in 1892, near the present location of Dodger Stadium. The Los Angeles City Oil Field was the first of many fields in the basin to be exploited, and in 1900 and 1902, respectively, the Beverly Hills Oil Field and Salt Lake Oil Field were discovered just a few miles west of the original find. Los Angeles became a center of oil production in the early 20th century, and by 1923 the region was producing one-quarter of the world's total supply; it is still a significant producer, with the Wilmington Oil Field having the fourth-largest reserves of any field in California."

    …was there a post Victorian (1927ish) tradition of planting palms near trains in L.A. ;^)
    Fullerton, EL ROCO
    3751 background
    compare to:
    and then there is Palmpedia
    Victorian L.A.

    p trees, L.A. Union Station
    Union Station, 1939

  14. Semi-Tropicpropaganda - Cali history is complex…
    this explanation is also RR related, but seems to be a good one…
    used [wolfskill palm] to find
    (fwiw: they even had Palm in some names… Palm)
    "Beginning in the 1870s, Southern Pacific Railroad funded elaborate advertising campaigns that were intended to transform the public's perception of Southern California. Most particularly, the railroad wanted to persuade prosperous Americans from the Midwest and the East Coast that California was neither a wild frontier nor the rough mining society of the Gold Rush era, but a fertile, semi-tropical wonderland.
    To this end, Southern Pacific published pamphlets, advertisements, and tracts, includingSemi-Tropic magazine, and sent trains full of local produce and live trees across the country. The expansive marketing quickly wove Southern California into the public imaginary as a place abundant with palm trees and semi-tropical fruit. And our palm tree, the first sight that visitors saw on setting foot into Los Angeles, served to substantiate the Semi-Tropicpropaganda.
    However, there was a problem. While the propaganda of the 1870s had led visitors and prospective affluent settlers to require palm trees of Southern California, by 1889 SPRR had calibrated the propaganda to a different narrative. For there was something rather louche in earlier Anglo perceptions of the tropics, something a little too fecund perhaps; something that historian Douglas Casaux Sackman describes as "a wild, defiant luxuriance, which could never be subdued by industry.
    Perhaps this is why our Semi-Tropic tree had to be fenced in - not merely to protect it from passing traffic, but to subdue the metaphor and render it safe?"

    in postcard form
    Arcade Depot, Southern Pacific Railroad, ca. 1900
    Union Station 75th - 76th this month
    the images are too good not to include, their stories below…
    The Curse of California
    American Progress, 1872
    The Octopus: A Story of California, 1901 novel by Frank Norris
    John Gast, American Progress, 1872

  15. Replies
    1. Fake right? Yours? Photoshop/Pixlr

    2. Розмарин, да - это правда, что это подделка ...
      но все зависит от того, что определение "поддельный" является ...
      в великой традиции русской дезинформации, часть информации может быть более информативным, чем другие
      штук, которые могут потребовать более благожелательно интерпретацию ...
      I am fairly certain this is as real as anything these days - from your image of the State Historical Museum… seems Perestroika and Glasnost were fragile…
      blue skies & ghosts in Moscow
      as to the tool: I seek simplicity - Preview, a native (and seemingly under used) application in OS X…
      have looked at Affinity, but for the simple things I do
      and the way I work Preview has been enough…
      Preview, Wiki
       support overview
      from the heart of the Victorian adventure novels…
      surrounded by palms
      Nautilus inspiration
      fun to see

    3. fragile like palms near the Moskva River in October…
      red palm in the morning…

  16. Blogs sometimes have good research. As well I figured someone might do a write up about famous palm trees in California and put these two ideas together and we have

    The oldest known palm trees in LA.

    1. another good find Rosemary - you are on a roll with the palms…
      encouraging that at least some of them remain - it was interesting to read the comments…
      different perspective pics from the same blog - 23 still there then -7/26/09
      nice view!
      from2014, some are missing, but still impressive
      1/15 - looking down Palm Ave.
      from the comments -Homestead Museum
      one search
      add'l pics

    2. This is an excellent find. Thanks for pointing it out!

  17. Replies
    1. Yes.. .one day. This is a fascinating (and completely scary) epoch in our history.

  18. Has anyone heard, back in the days of horses and stagecoaches, that when you came upon a house with two large palms at their gate or in front of their house. meant this as a "Welcome" sign, that you could spend the night there, rest your horse or just stop and rest? So far I have not found any comments relating to this.

    1. I haven't heard this before. If you find something on this topic, please post it here!

  19. Nice photos. I'd love to have palm trees of my own too. I'll see if I can get one when I visit a date palm farm in California @