Elysian Park prepares for the death of iconic palm trees

Palm tree showing signs of deadly Fusarium wilt fungus

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.


  1. Canary Island Palms, Polish Bratwurst, Domestic Porter, Led Zeppelin, Mule Deer Disappearing In and Out of the Evening Shadows … Where have All the Good Times Gone ?

  2. This is terrible! A loss for sure, but kudos to Mr. O’Brien for his long term thinking so future generations can enjoy the beautiful palms.

  3. They will be missed. By the time our son has children of his own they’ll be beautiful again.

  4. $50k to remove and replace 123 palms? Or just replace (replant) Jr plants? I would think the latter as $50k seems low to do both, no?

  5. This is devastating. One of my favorite stretches of Elysian Park.

  6. The city has been quite negligent about this fungus for many years. I know this has been talked about there for at least 25 years now. The city, and its experts, kept saying they didn’t find any issues, didn’t know why the trees in the park were dying, it had to just be their age. But then Beverly Hills discovered it was this fungus in their town, and they realized the problem was the tree trimming — you have to clean the saws thoroughly before you move on to the next tree, or else you transfer the fungus! With that, Beverly Hills has saved all its trees. But not LA.

    Most or nearly all of the trees are still just fine now. I would hope we don’t take the nuclear approach and cut them all down at once and replant little things. That means at least an entire generation before anything very worthwhile will be there. I would hope they are cut down and replanted only one by one as they become untreatably infected.

    And frankly, I don’t know why a fungus can’t be treated anyway — but I certainly will not listen to the experts the city brings in about that, as they have a history of always being wrong.

  7. Really hope something will be done to keep palms on this stretch, iconic, part of home for me and a lot of others.

  8. Wow, that really sucks. I’m going to have to go down and take some pictures before they’re all gone.

  9. $50k to replace? Please stop planting palm trees in LA. They are an eyesore, require a lot of maintenance, aesthetically unpleasing, are not even from the area, and are a serious road hazard. Have you seen the 10 freeway after a windstorm? It’s real bizarre how people in California identify so much with a tree from the Canary islands. Cut them all down.

    • AGREED. If they MUST plant palm trees they should be planting only one, the California Fan palm, but they should be planting NATIVE trees. Stop ruining the LA landscape with non-native trees!

      • Agreed!!! They look so out of place and DATEd! haha

      • How is any city allowing the planting of non native trees right now? If you do new construction are these same cities allowing non native trees on the allowed list?

        To add, I think people are forgetting we are in a major drought with only worse to come. Lets plant things that can survive in their native habitat.

    • Disagree strongly.

      Palm trees and Eucalyptus, while non-native are some of the defining features of the Los Angeles Landscape. Some of my earliest memories are of towering eucalyptus trees and their bark.

      The idea that they are “ruining the landscape” is a little ridiculous considering that no one alive has ever known anything different — That’s an extreme theoretical.

      I don’t care if their non-native. Most everything around here, including the people, are non-natives.

      • While I appreciate your sentiment, we can’t keep planting palms for nostalgic value. I have no doubt Los Angeles can redefine itself without these trees. They are costly, dangerous, and prone to infection. Setup an RSS news feed with the word “palm tree” and you might be amazed at their negative impact and frequency of articles.

      • With all due respect, that argument just doesn’t add up. I understand having those memories, but this is 2012: our planet and ecosystems are in real peril because of decades (centuries, really) of humans treating them as they wish, with disregard to millions of years of natural evolution. Non-native trees and plants create ecological havoc, eliminating the possibility of native plants thriving, which in turn eliminates the delicate ecosystem that has developed between those plants, and the animals and insects that need them for food and shelter. To argue that we should continue doing this, so that humans familiar with the plants can continue to enjoy them at every other living thing’s peril, is just ignorant and selfish.

        The thing is, the native plants of California are some of the most beautiful, diverse, and inspiring plants in the world. If Los Angeles was filled with the plants that are supposed to actually be growing here, planted in a way that was aesthetically pleasing to the eye, it would create an incredible sense of place, and connection to nature that we simply don’t have right now, with all of the hodge-podge of non-natives growing rampant everywhere you look. Things are changing, but there still seems to be a 1940’s/50’s mentality where people are trying to make it look like a tropical paradise, which it is not.

    • I’m sorry to say that the palm trees are so ugly and fake.
      Los Angeles needs to plant oaks that trap air pollution and
      Provide shade. Oaks are very natural and beautiful for any
      Areas .

  10. What about planting the little ones inbetween (or behind) the big ones and letting the big ones die gracefully over the next several years while the little ones start growing. Might lessen the pain of the loss.

    • That is the plan Mike. Currently 6 are beyond help. The others will all come to that stage at some point. The plan is to stagger plant, irrigate, improve the protection along the Avenue,(boulders rather than logs), and foster the growth of the new ones. The CCSEP does annual memorial tree plantings in the Park and also plans to restore some of the Arboretum trees lost in the last few storms..

      Christine Peters

      • Christine,

        What are your thoughts on planting native trees, California fan palm or otherwise, instead of non-natives?

        • David,

          See Michael O’Briens comments for details. CCSEP supports native planting in the Park. However, the “Ave of the Palms” is part of the Arboretum, a historic Landmark, (and therefore Landscape). The goal is to stagger plant new Palms to continue this historic landscape. Moving forward, new plantings in the Park (and hopefully the City) will be Native, drought tolerant plants and trees that will thrive here.


  11. Solano Canyon Pop

    No one likes the Leslie Duggers in their lives

  12. The Avenue of the Palms is part of the Elysian Park Arboretum, Historic-Cultural Monument No. 48–one of the earliest (we’re now over 1,000 H-C Ms)–and, as such, any work in the Arboretum must follow the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Cultural Landscapes. Briefly, this means that the palms must be replanted with a palm that has the same character as the existing palms. About the only palm available that fits this requirement is the Chilean Wine Palm. And it has the added virtue of being fairly rare, and so fits nicely into the purpose of the Arboretum, which is to house rare trees.

    The Citizens Committee to Save Elysian Park has developed a Draft Master Plan for the Park, which envisions that the invasive non-native plants in the Park–such as the Eucalyptus–will slowly die off, and will in time–we’re talking decades here–be replaced by the trees native to the Park, which are the Coast Live Oak and the Southern California Black Walnut.

    Come to our annual November tree planting and you can sponsor a native tree–do your part to help bring Elysian Park into the next century!

  13. I find that there are pro’s and con’s on either side of the argument. However, the fact of the matter still remains, dying trees. Yes, I understand, that familiarity has a strong connection to countless individuals. That being said, who’s to say that a replanting of a different species of palm tree or completely different variety of tree altogether would not be held any less grad or magnificent than what we are so familiar with now.
    I for one would vote for the Bristle Cone Pine, as it seems to be natures long hauler. Maybe a second Choice would be the Sequoia or giant Redwood, as I recall these two are native as well as Majestic.

  14. What about a systematic replacement? Instead of cutting them down whenever needed do it in a patter so that the palms grow at different times almost making a pattern? They’d eventually all get to the same point – it would make the journey that much more interesting!

  15. I love palm trees all over LA,especially in beverly hills and hollywood. I love planting palm trees,as long as they will be looked after. Also I dont appreciate buidling so many tall skyscrapers all over LA.That’s not the kinda of lifestyle that south california has to offer

Post a Comment

Please keep your comments civil and on topic and refrain from personal attacks. The moderator reserves the right to edit or delete any comments. The Eastsider's Terms of Use and Privacy Policy apply to comments submitted by readers. Required fields are marked *