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Plants of the Palm Family

      If you have ever gone south to avoid Old Man Winter, then you have likely encountered members of the Palm family lining city streets. In North America, the Palm family includes trees and tree-like shrubs with slender, unbranching trunks, and large pinnately or palmately divided leaves. The flowers form in clusters, typically surrounded by or emerging from one or more bracts (modified leaves), which may become woody with age. The flowers are regular, bisexual, and usually small and white. There are typically 3 sepals and 3 petals, plus usually 6 (sometimes 3, 9, or numerous) stamens. The ovary consists of usually 3 carpels (up to 10), either as 3 separate pistils (apocarpous), or united as one pistil (syncarpous), typically maturing as a berry or drupe (a fleshy fruit with a stony seed). Worldwide, there are about 200 genera and 2,600 species. North American genera are listed below. Other monocot trees are included in the Banana family (Musaceae) and the Bird-of-Paradise family (Strelitziaceae).

      Date palms and Mexican palms have been planted at developed sites throughout the Lake Mead National Recreation Area in Nevada and Arizona. The Mexican palms are native to Baja and it is unclear if the first ones to arrive in the Lake Mead area were planted by westerners, Native Americans, or if they arrived there on their own. The trees are now naturalized at springs throughout the park, and some naturalists contend that they should be removed to restore the original character of the landscape. I disagree. Although the trees grow well at the springs, they are hardly invasive, and they could have easily arrived there on their own, if not in the past, then in the future, if we had not interferred.

      The palm trees are one of the features of the Lake Mead National Recreation Area that draw me back there frequently. The springs in the desert seem like a real oasis with the palm trees there. If we were to remove the palm trees to restore the historical character of the place, then we should also remove the artificial lake, roads, and campgrounds. Or keep the trees and acknowledge that we have modified the landscape. It isn't bad, just different from what might have been there before.

Key Words: Unbranching monocot trees in southern climates.

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Washingtonia filifera. Mexican Palm or California Palm.

Washingtonia filifera. Mexican Palm. (Also known as the California Palm.)

Washingtonia filifera. Mexican Palm.

Washingtonia filifera. Photographed at Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Nevada.

Phoenix dactylifera. Date Palm.

Phoenix dactylifera. Date Palm. Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Nevada.

Cocos nucifera. Coconut.

Cocos nucifera. Coconut. Photographed in Mexico.

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