The Guadalupe palm is the perfect palm for Bay Area gardens.
Native to the fog-cooled Guadalupe Island in Baja California, it’s right at home in San Francisco.
Lots of people know the California fan palm, Washingtonia filifera, native
to watercourses in the lowland deserts of Southern California. The largest
grove is at Palm Springs, and it’s a sight as awe-inspiring as any other
botanical wonder of California.
While the California fan palm also occurs across the border in Baja California, four additional palm species are also native to Baja. One of them — the Guadalupe palm (Brahea edulis) — is a superior palm for Bay Area gardens. Two of them have recently been planted along the northeast edge of the SF Botanical Garden’s Great Meadow.
Unlike the California fan palm, which thrives only in the hotter inland
parts of the Bay Area, the Guadalupe palm, native to a dry but foggy
island in the Pacific, grows well in most of sea level California. Not
surprisingly, it requires little water once established, and thrives along
our foggy coastline. It grows beautifully in open shade.
So why call the Guadalupe palm, which is from Mexico, “native?”
California is home to parts of four different floristic provinces, but one of them, the Californian Floristic Province, is at the heart of our state’s flora.
The Californian Floristic Province takes in Guadalupe Island at its
southern extreme. Many familiar California native plants are
indigenous to the island, like Monterey pine (Pinus radiata var. binata);
toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia); sword fern (Polystichum munitum); Island oak (Quercus tomentella); California juniper (Juniperus californica), as well as species of cypress, manzanita, buckwheats, and California poppies and wild liiacs
Defying human-made geographic boundaries and adhering to botanical ones, the Brahea edulis is indeed a native.
OK, it’s a technicality, but a fun one to contemplate (pines and palms and
cypresses and oaks — oh my!). What does matter, though, is that the
Guadalupe palm is a lovely species that thrives in all parts of the Bay
Area, as long as you can give it some decent drainage and irrigation for
the first several years of its life, until it’s established.