Washingtonia filifera: Desert fan palm

Family: Arecaceae
Common name: Desert fan palm, California fan palm, Petticoat palm

Desert fan palms are seen in the dry regions of western USA and also in UAE and other continents, growing and thriving in extreme weather conditions. They grow to a height of 50-70 feet with a grey colored, sturdy, stout trunk and fan-like leaves. The deeply palmate leaves can be grow up to 13 feet long; and the leaflets so long that their pointy tips droop instead of staying erect.

These palm trees have a beautiful head of fanning leaves giving it a symmetrical head over a long trunk. The most distinguishing feature of the Desert fan palm is the ‘petticoat’, the hanging skirt like structure that covers almost the entire trunk.

When leaves die, they do not fall down; but bend down 180 degrees covering the trunk with brownish-grey leaves. Over time, a large number of leaves bend down and stack one over the other, so the tree looks like it is wearing a large puffy skirt. It is not just an ornamental feature, but has some ecological significance as well; providing a cool and cozy home for birds, insects, bats and other species that live in the desert.

Desert fan palms live for 100 to 250 years providing long-term housing solutions for many small animals and birds.

Desert fam palms produce small, inconspicuous white flowers that are ‘perfect flowers’ with male and female organs in it. They also have fruits that are initially yellow, then brown and finally deep black. These fruits and leaf buds are edible; eaten raw, cooked or ground into flour. Desert fan palm leaves are used for thatching huts; and for making baskets, mats or woven containers.

These sturdy trees can grown in a wide variety of temperatures, tolerating extreme heat and freezing cold equally well. They need some water during initial years of growth when the plants are still tender; but are drought-tolerant once they grow. Young plants are also prone to trampling and grazing by cattle.

Propagation is from seeds.

Image credits: Nicy Joseph

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