Along with beaches, sunshine, and movie stars, a lot of people picture palm trees when they think of southern California. While there are lots of palm tree species in California, they aren’t all originally from the area. Many were brought from different places around the world.
That’s what I found out from my friend Chuck Cody, a biologist who manages some of the greenhouses at Washington State University.
Believe it or not, Washington state also used to be home to lots of palm trees. In the Jacklin Collection Museum at WSU, there are all kinds of petrified wood. One of the pieces is fossilized palm wood from central Washington. Fossils can give us a lot of clues about what life was like before humans were around.
Cody also told me that in prehistoric times, during the earliest days of flowering plants on our planet, palms were a big part of the natural landscapes. This was back more than 145 million years ago when dinosaurs like Iguanodon and Ankylosaurs roamed the earth.
In Washington, palm trees were common 15 million years ago and were able to survive during a time when the climate wasn’t so cold. But as you’ve observed, California is the place that’s home to a lot of palm trees these days.
While the California Fan Palm is a native palm of California, Cody told me that people started bringing other species of palm trees to California around 200 years ago.