Washingtonia filifera, also called the desert fan, Arizona fan palm, or California fan palm, is — when it reaches full maturity — a truly majestic plant that positively towers over any desert landscape. The California palm tree belongs to the Arecaceae family, better known as the palm family. Its very small genus, Washingtonia, consists of a few palm species native to California, Arizona, and Mexico.
California fan palms are an extremely popular choice among landscapers looking for an impressive low-maintenance plant. “Plant?” Indeed, California fan palms might look like trees, but are technically monocots (also called monocotyledons), which are grass-like flowering plants. You certainly wouldn’t be able to tell that from a plant that typically grows to be up to 80 feet (over 24 meters) tall!
The fact that these wonderful palms would almost look out of place outside of a desert might make you think that you can’t grow them if you’re in a more norther climate — but you’d be surprised. California fan palms are surprisingly frost resistant.
About California Fan Palms
- Washingtonia filifera is a flowering plant from the palm family. Their striking evergreen leaves are “fronds”, impressively-sized divided leaves that may remind you somewhat of a fern. At the end of each summer season, old fronds begin to droop down, creating the California fan palm’s distinctive light brown “skirt”.
- California fan palms are native to the southwestern United States, notably California and Arizona, but also portions of Colorado, as well as to Mexico. Some Washingtonia species are, however, grown much further afield, in regions such as the Mediterranean and the Middle East.
- When you add a California fan palm to your garden, you commit for life — these tree-like plants typically live to be at least 80 years old, while some can survive to be over 250 years old!
- The genus Washingtonia was, as you might have guessed, indeed named after George Washington. The species name filifera is, on the other hand, a reference to the California fan palm’s prominent fibrous threads, which protrude from the fronds (leaves). Filifera means “thread-baring” in Latin!
- Well-adapted to warm desert climates, the California fan palm is famously fire-resistant — that is, large fires can harm the plant, but are rarely able to kill it. Indeed, fire has historically been an important means for the plant’s propagation, as fires can help to spread saplings while simultaneously making sure they have ample space to grow.
- California palm trees attract numerous different bird species, most notably the hooded oriole (when planted in its native region), which nests in the plant. They are additionally a haven for a multitude of insect species, as well as bats.
- Some of the insects that like to visit the California fan palm can turn out to be a problem, though. In sufficient numbers, boring palm beetles can kill these beautiful plants. Spider mites are also known to attack California fan palms.
- This plant is not toxic to pets or people. Grazing animals love to munch on young saplings, which will need to be protected! The California fan palm flowers in summer, after which it drops edible fruits. These fruits were a staple among Native Americans, and anyone growing a California fan palm in their garden can also try them, raw as well as cooked!
- The California fan palm has historically been useful for more than its edible fruits — members of the Cahuilla tribe also used the leaves to make footwear and thatched roofs, as well as baskets. If you have one in your garden, you could try your hand at basket weaving.
- If you are considering adding a California fan palm, or perhaps even several, to your garden, you will need ample space. These palms aren’t just rather tall when they reach maturity, they also grow with amazing speeds. Don’t add a sapling if you don’t have space for a mature California fan palm!
California Fan Palm Features: An Overview
- Washingtonia filifera is a tall flowering monocot with a sturdy red-brown trunk and extremely large arching fronts (leaves), which have long stems. Their “skirts”, made up of old fronds that have drooped down, are arguably their most characteristic feature.
- When fully grown, a California fan palm plant can reach from 30 feet (just over nine meters) to 80 feet (more than 24 meters) tall. These plants don’t have such a wide spread, and typically grow to be around 15 feet (four and a half meters) wide. They are additionally exceptionally fast growers, so you’ll be able to enjoy a large tree soon enough even when you bring a sapling into your garden.
- The palmate leaves of the California fan palm plant are deep green, waxy, and extremely large — each leaf can be as long as three feet (one and a half meters), and may grow to be six feet (two meters) wide in mature specimens. Unlike many trees, the fronds of the California fan palm do not fall off at the end of a growing season. They turn brown and begin to droop, forming the plant’s characteristic skirt, which can be so long that it almost reaches the ground.
- The leaf stems, called petioles, that mature California fan palms have feature thorns at the edges, while young leaves don’t have these thorns.
- The fact that California fan palm leaves have wispy threads is another of its defining features, for which it was indeed named.
- California fan palms form an arching shape, like a fan — hence their name.
- California fan palms produce charming but small creamy white flowers during the summer time, which can be found at the end of long stalks that ensure you’ll be able to catch a glimpse.
- Once the flowering period passes, small black fruits emerge from Washingtonia filifera produces beautiful black fruits, which will attract certain birds. Every fruit contains just one seed, and the berry-like fruits are small, measuring just 0.5 inches (just over a centimeter) in diameter.
Growing California Fan Palm Plants
Growing and caring for Washingtonia filifera is rather easy once you have an established plant, as these palms can tolerate a surprisingly wide variety of cultural conditions — though they are, of course, plants native to subtropical regions, so a California fan palm won’t thrive in cool climates such as in Alaska.
California fan palms thrive in arid and desert regions, where in naturally grows along streams, canyons, and anywhere where the plant’s root system will have adequate access to ground water. Despite their rightful reputation for being a desert plant, these palms can actually survive frost when established, as well. If your temperatures dip to 15 to 20 ºF (-9.4 to -6.7 ºC) occasionally, your mature desert fan palm will not mind.
If you are adding a young California fan palm to your garden, it should ideally be placed in a location where it will receive full sun — meaning at least six consistent daily hours of sunshine. These plants do tolerate partial shade with around four hours of direct sun too, though.
- Exotic and Beautiful! Grows up to 90 feet tall!
- One of the easiest palms to grow from seed! Requires full-sun. Zones: 9 to 11. The Mexican Fan Palm is a fast-growing palm tree that grows over 90 feet tall. It is native to Western Sonora and Baja California in Northwestern Mexico. In the USA it grows in California, Arizona, Southern Nevada, New Mexico and the coast of Texas to Southern Florida. The Mexican Fan Palm is an attractive ornamental palm tree best used as a street tree and in groves.
- Prefers rich, well-drained soil. Can survive on poor soils and sand.
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- NAME(S): California Fan Palm / Desert Fan Palm / California Palm / Petticoat Palm / Arizona Fan Palm / Maul // SCIENTIFIC NAME: Washingtonia Filifera syn. Brahea Filamentosa / Neowashingtonia Filamentosa / Neowashingtonia Filifera / Pritchardia Filifera / Washingtonia Filamentosa
- HARDINESS ZONE: 8 - 11 // BLOOM TIME: July - Aug // HARVEST: Nov - Jan
- PLANT HEIGHT: Up to 70' // PLANT SPACING: 40'
- LIGHT: Sun - Part Shade // WATER: Average // COLOR: White Flowers / Reddish Black Fruit
- You will receive 10 healthy seeds true to name. Please goto youtube and watch at least 2 videos how to plant. Everybody has different settings for planting and these videos will help you establish your environment.
- Before you receive the seeds make sure you have everything you need to grow them.Make sure to do the research and have all the material you need. Palm seeds can take upto 6 months to sprout. So material and enviroment is crucial to success.
- Growing seeds is a challenge and you have to have perfect conditions. Warm soil and proper soil is key. Understand and know how to stratisfy your seeds. You cannot just put these in any soil and hope they grow.
California fan palms favor rich and well-draining soil types, but can tolerate a wide range of soil conditions, including sandy and loamy soils, as well as even salty soil. That’s why they’re a popular choices for people in warm coastal regions. These plants do best with neutral to acidic soils, but can cope with alkaline soil too.
If you would like your California fan palm to be as strong, healthy, and beautiful as possible, know that these plants love fertilizer and immediately respond to it. While your Washingtonia filifera is certainly going to survive if you do not engage in this practice, many gardeners like to fertilize their California fan palm trees once a month. Should you choose to do the same, it is crucial to choose a palm-specific fertilizer for your California fan palm.
In terms of pruning, it is absolutely not necessary to prune your California fan palm. The skirted rings of old brown fronds are one of the California fan palm’s most distinctive features, and many people treasure that characteristic shaggy look. While the old fronds can remain on the plant for a very long time, only falling out after many years, it’s still important to keep in mind that these large old fronds do come loose sometimes. Because they can pose a safety risk to anyone walking underneath them, California fan palms with intact skirts should be planted away from busy areas.
Watering California Fan Palms
Even the most desert-hardy plants need some water to survive, and the California fan palm is no exception. How often, and how much, should you water a Washingtonia filifera? That depends on your plant’s age.
Mature trees planted in appropriate locations will not need regular supplemental watering, as they will have access to ground water. To ensure that your California fan palm continues to thrive, you are advised to offer it deep watering once in a while, especially during periods of extensive drought. Other than that, you won’t have any work to do!
Young and new California fan palms do require supplemental watering, and will soon grow into tall, strong, and healthy plants if you offer them about an inch of water every week — or whenever you notice that the topsoil has completely dried out.
Propagating California Fan Palms
When it comes to propagating California fan palms, you really have only one viable route. These plants don’t produce suckers, in contrast to other palms, and should be propagated from seed. Fortunately, the steps you need to take to sprout new Washingtonia filifera plants are not all that difficult.
To try to propagate a California fan palm from seed, simply follow along with these steps:
- If you have a mature California fan palm already, you can collect seeds from the fruits these trees produce during the fall. Each fruit bears a single seed. These seeds can be planted immediately, or stored for longer periods of time, for instance to be gifted to someone. If you don’t have Washingtonia filifera in your garden yet, don’t worry — the seeds are easily found for sale online, and even older seeds have an excellent chance of succeeding!
- Prepare a pot with well-draining, rich and sandy soil for your seedlings. Moisten the soil prior to planting the California fan palm seeds.
- Plant the seeds just below the surface of the soil, keeping in mind that these plants propagate themselves very easily when fruits drop to the ground.
- Keep your pot in a consistently sunny spot, and make sure that the water soil never dries out.
Once they grow into strong saplings, they can be planted into your garden. Of course, if you live in a native region such as California, you can also simply plant the California fan palm’s seeds directly into your garden. They will still need regular watering in that case, and will later thank you for regular fertilizer.
You may be surprised to learn that Washingtonia filifera is considered extremely easy to propagate. Your tiny seedling will, with the right love and care, grow into a healthy and strong you California fan palm soon enough. Wait a little longer, and you will be rewarded with a tall and majestic plant that does not need any attention.
Washingtonia filifera, more commonly known as the California fan palm or desert fan palm, is an obvious choice for your garden if you live in a native region and have the space. These plants are a dream to grow and care for, thriving with just a little attention, and will develop into towering “trees” with beautiful leaves and charming old fronds before you know it. As young plants, they do need regular watering and fertilizer, but after they are established, California fan palms will take care of themselves!