Somebody set fire to this Chinese windmill palm (Trachycarpus fortunei) on 21st and Folsom streets in the Mission District. It used to have a full complement of green leaves and a thick skirt of straw-colored dead leaves. Now it’s almost schematic.
This species of palm is one of the most hardy of all. It tolerates temperatures as low as 10F, sometimes even lower, and sheds snow like an A-frame. Though it prefers even moisture, it will tolerate drought; though it looks prettier in some shade, it grows well in full sun, too; while it’s best in well-drained soil, it seems to tolerate growing at creeksides and in clay. It does not do well in extremely hot desert and tropical environments.
In the aftermath of its pyromaniacal abuse, it’s already showing signs of regrowth.
A special appeal of the Chinese windmill palm is its showy spring flowerstalks (“inflorescences”). What a delightful surprise to see that after having its leaves devoured by fire, the tree still has plenty of stored energy for flowers. Maybe it will even make fruits.
If you look carefully into the skeletal crown you’ll see the green of the newest emerging leaf. The solitary leaf bud of this tree, located deep in the heart of the trunk apex, has not suffered and will be able to produce an entirely new crown of leaves. It’s fascinating to see the structure of the leaf arrangement laid bare by the fire, with only the thick petioles (stalks that connect the fans to the trunk) remaining after the ablation of the thin blades. It will be interesting to watch the tree regrow over the next couple of years.
A smart way to use this species as a street tree is to plant two or three of different heights to a single tree well. The repetition and correspondences between these smallish trees is more pleasing than a solitary exclamation point on the sidewalk.
We sell the species in 15-gallon containers and as boxed specimens.
Thanks to James DeVinny of San Francisco’s Bureau of Urban Forestry for the photos.