Planted more than a century ago in the bottom of an Elysian Park canyon, rows of Canary Island Date Palms that line both sides of Avenue of the Palms – a section of Stadium Way – have grown more than 50 feet high, serving as a park landmark and creating a majestic backdrop for picnics as well as classic car shows. But the Avenue of the Palms is not going to look very majestic for long. A fatal fungus – Fusarium wilt - that has killed off Canary Island palms from Spain to Santa Monica has also spread to the Elysian Park trees. Faced with the prospect of a forest of dead palm trees, the Citizens Committee to Save Elysian Park, a nonprofit park support group, has come up with a proposal to replant disease-resistant palms. But the solution won’t be cheap and it will take decades for the replacement palms to reach the imposing height and grandeur of the existing trees.
“We can hold off on this forever – there is nothing that says that a historic plant that dies must be replanted,” said Michael O’Brien, who has spearheaded the replanting proposal. “However, we think that just letting the Avenue [of the Palms] die would rip the heart out of Elysian Park.”
Fusarium wilt, which often spreads through uncleaned pruning equipment, interferes with the palm’s ability to absorb water. The older, lower leaves begin to die first before all the leaves die, according to a report by the University of Florida. In addition to the fungus, the Elysian Park trees are also approaching the end of their natural life cycle, O’Brien said.
Instead of replacing individual palms at Elysian Park as they die off, the Elysian Park group has proposed a mass planting of new trees in between the existing palms to create a grove of trees of similar height. Instead of Canary Island palms, O’Brien said the committee is proposing that Chilean Wine Palms, Jubaea chilensis, be planted instead since they are resistant to the Fusarium wilt.
The newly planted trees will be far from imposing. They will first appear to look like a pair of palm fronds growing out of the ground, O’Brien said.
It will cost at least $50,000 to replace the 123 palms on Stadium Way and on a section of Academy Road, O’Brien said. The Citizens Committee is prepared to fund and seen grants to pay for the project but the proposal must still be reviewed and adopted by the Recreation and Parks Department.
O’Brien will discuss the plan at tonight’s meeting of the Citizens Committee to Save Elysian Park. The meeting begins at 7 p.m. at Williams Hall at Barlow Hospital, 2000 Stadium Way.