Wednesday, September 25, 2019

SearchResearch Challenge (9/25/19): Why are palm trees so tall?

As I bicycled around town... 

... I saw a palm tree that stood out from my local urban landscape.  It was easily 100 feet tall, and REALLY rose well above the line of buildings and other urban trees.  

I thought to myself, "now that is one weird tree." 

And I grew up in Los Angeles, where row upon row of palm-lined streets really are commonplace.  This is Windsor Blvd--just another LA street.  

Then it occurred to me:  WHY is it like that?  Why are they so ridiculously tall and skinny?  

We've discussed palm trees before in SRS (back in May, 2015 when we asked "Victorians and palms.  A thing?").  Back then we decided that yes, it was a thing for Victorian era landscapers to plunk palm trees down everywhere.  As we found "Victorians were mad about palms."  

But as interesting as that is, it doesn't answer our Challenge today:   

1.  Why are palm trees SO tall? 

It doesn't seem to make sense. 

Or does it?  

Can you figure out why this tree has managed to do so well over the years?  And why does it have such a strange aspect ratio?? 

Once you find out, let us know, and tell us HOW you figured it out!  

Search on!  

P.S.  You'll note that I did this post in a LARGE font.  Do you like it?  Hate it?  (I did it because I noticed that the posts are hard to read on mobile devices.  So this is a small experiment to see what might work better.  Your opinion?) 


  1. [tallest palm tree in california] finds

    "Palms, though they weren’t native to the Riviera, became indelibly associated with it. And the American developers (ca 1930) eyeing Southern California got some ideas. Hey, they thought. This big chunk of desert-y scrubland we own is not that dissimilar from the Mediterranean sites of the Riviera. What if we took a page from their book, and started branding Los Angeles?"

    " The palms thrived in Los Angeles ... one species in particular, the Mexican fan palm, grew enormous. The Mexican fan palm is native to Northern Mexico; it’s that incredibly tall skinny one with the little fronds high up above. “Nobody knew they would grow so tall; they grow taller in LA than they would in the wild. They’re the tallest palms in the history of the world, at least that we know of,” says Farmer"

    . .."“What LA adds to that, which no city, no people had ever thought to do before, and maybe for good reason, is to plant palms systematically as street trees,” says Farmer. The young city, wanting to attract people to a world of sunshine and cars, planted tens of thousands of palm trees. And they weren’t just on big boulevards: Los Angeles planted them everywhere. Tiny residential streets, parks, anywhere. Places designed for tourists—boardwalks, beaches, wealthy hills,"

    PS my copy of Joy is winging its way to me as we speak j

  2. About the font, I am looking on mobile device and size of the font looks very similar to previous posts. However, space between rows and words now looks bigger and better. I like it!

    1. For the Challenge, I am starting with
      [ Why palm trees are so tall] found results from Quota, Reddit and Mother Nature Network. Google suggested adding "in California" not tried that yet.

      Also searched same query in Spanish.

      Not all palms are skinny and not even all are trees

    2. With [skiny palm trees California] found this link with photos, why Palms are different from trees and more :

    3. Tried [Palm trees unknown facts] and found interesting results. Some facts also were mentioned when tried [why Palm trees are so tall]

      Here, we got lucky and with other plants, seed came for palms and now they give lots of seeds and we have baby palms

    4. Out of topic and related with previous SRS Challenges. Today I learned that if you live in The United States of America and have Kindle and Library Card, you can borrow e-books for free from your local library and/or with Overdrive by Rakuten.

    5. With [Palm tree tall ratio] found an interesting article:

      Sun, energy or danger are key aspects to gain height. But it is very diverse having so many species. Also interesting is that the leaves are called fronds and that in Spanish, apparently we have no translation because only found mentioned searching leaves

  3. My first thought is that they are different from other trees in that they are monocots, so they can bend and flex in the wind, and have a large fibrous root system. This would give them an advantage in competing for light in a rainforest, although this one is out in the open. I will start my search using the term adaptation.

    1. True. because they are monocots.

      regular trees : "Because new rings of pipes grow each year, the stem or trunk grows wider each yea|

      Palms: " The stems of monocots do not grow like this... The top of the stem is the only growing point, so branches or side shoots can not be produced..."

      As for the reason why ? there may not be a particular reason:

      "There need not be any specific advantage/disadvantage of having one versus two cotyledons.

      It is not clear at all that monocots evolved from dicots. But if they did, there are many other differences between the two groups, the cotyledon number just happens to be the one that humans arbitrarily chose to use for classification purposes. The change from 2 to 1 could easily have been a completely neutral random change, with some of the other differences driving the divergence in terms of positive selection factors.

      The fact that monocots and dicots frequently live side by side without one outcompeting and displacing the other in the environment would suggest that neither side has that significant a competitive advantage in typical environmental conditions."

  4. Since palms are quite diverse, I searched Windsor Boulevard LA Palm species which took me to a page “A Brief History of Palm Trees in Southern California” where it identified the species as Washingtonia filifera. Another site called them Washingtonia robusta. So I searched for adaptation and the Linnaeus names

    The Wikipedia entry for Washingtonia robusta indicates that this is the same species and had an entry in the citations for “Cell longevity and sustained primary growth in palm trees” which claims that this species can live to over 500 years of age. Since it is a grass, and grasses can only grow up, then this might suggest that these could be on the older side. However, an article from the Journal of Arid Environments suggests no well defined correlation between height and age (although there is between crown diameter and age).

    The USDS Fire Effects Information system confirmed that robusta and filifera are synonymous. Although the ones in your picture are planted as single trees, they are often found in dense groves and “provide 100% of story cover” which would suggest that height is a beneficial adaptation of the species. It indicates a typical age of 150 years.

    Another journal article “Stiffness gradients in vascular bundles of the palm Washingtonia robusta” reports a “system of stiff fibrous elements embedded in the [parenchyma]” gives it robust properties that allow it to remain undamaged by high winds despite being tall. One of the interesting suggestions from this research is that could provide a model for reducing stress in fibre-reinforced composites.

  5. One comment, one question: I like the large font -- not sure where to ask a Search question -- so will put here -- and maybe someone can tell me where I should post. Here is question...

    Interesting that Google search engine doesn't search a friend's site correctly..... (well, doesn't work the way I think it should...) on

    I put in search like this -- whole line: casein -"general plastics"

    and I get search results....

    but when I do a Find in page for casein on the pages in the Search results, the word casein doesn't show up -- even use the 'Verbatim' search tool....

    But when I click on the links using the down arrow (Cached pages), I can find the term....


    Will ask a Google colleague if they have any ideas.

    No big deal, but is a nuisance. I try to keep up with all the in's and out's of Google (fun and rewarding for me...), but this one has me stumped.

    1. Not to be a smart alec but I followed your description exactly and found 10 hits on page 1 for 'casein'. To quote you again "hmmmm" jon tU

  6. They were planted at a time when southern CA had lots of moisture. They can grow 4-5 feet a year. So, removed from their hard scrabble existence in a water short region they did really well with abundant moisture. And the care, somewhat haphazardly, with water trucks and some fertilizer from time to time; "et viola" they, like Topsy, just grew. But now they must contend with old age with its accoutrements of fungus and bugs.
    CHeers, jon tU who spent enjoyable afternoon hours just reading about trees and life in CA without making any links at all.

  7. Doesn’t talk about WHY, but a great picture with a horse to show how tall. (3rd picture down the page)

  8. Anne and Deb here. We appreciate the larger font! Even though we aren't getting older just better LOL we do like the larger font.
    Ok on to the challenge.
    We did what appeared to be the logical search why are palm trees in la so tall.
    This site gave an excellent overview of the history of the palm tree in LA - but didn't quite explain why they grow so tall there. This article talked about how when the trees were first planted they were watered so appears that the climate in LA coupled with the care given to these trees/grasses by watering them as well as water from underground springs helped them thrive. Thought the atlas obscura article was fascinating in how it detailed how and why palm trees were imported to the LA area. And side note, the house Anne grew up in Palo Alto was framed by 2 palm trees. Her family hated them because pigeons nested in them and made a mess. They eventually cut the trees down! Guess they don't have that problem in LA but it is interesting to note that many of these trees are now dying and LA is not going to replace them with the same species but instead is going to plant native trees.