Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center - The University of Texas at Austin information

 Native Plant Database

Washingtonia filifera

California fan palm, Desert palm, Petticoat palm

Arecaceae (Palm Family)

Washingtonia filifera (California fan palm)
Wasowski, Sally and Andy
The California fan palm will eventually grow to 50 ft. Unlike other palms, as the leaves of California fan palm die, they fold down against the stout trunk rather than dropping off. This dense shag or thatch of dead leaves may be burned away with a light fire. The large, gray-green leaf blades are from 3-6 ft. long and segmented nearly to the middle. They hang from stout, spiny petioles. Relatively small, whitish flowers are followed by hard, black, pea-sized fruits.

The largest native palm of the continental United States as well as the only western species, it is also known as Desert-palm. Another name is Petticoat-palm from the shaggy mass of dead leaves hanging against the trunk. Groves are in Palm Canyon near Palm Springs and in Joshua Tree National Monument. It is cultivated widely as an ornamental along streets and avenues in southern California, southern Arizona, the Gulf States east to Florida, and in subtropical regions around the world. Indians ate the berries, both fresh and dry, and ground the seeds into meal. This genus honors the first president of the United States.

Image Gallery:

2 photo(s) available

Plant Characteristics

Duration: Perennial
Habit: Tree
Size Class: 36-72 ft.

Bloom Information

Bloom Time: Jun


Native Distribution: S.e. CA, s.w. AZ & n. Baja
Native Habitat: Moist, alkaline spots near seeps & streams

Growing Conditions

Light Requirement: Sun
Soil Moisture: Moist
Soil Description: Moist, alkaline soils.
Conditions Comments: When planted together in desert areas, California palms provide deep, cool shade. The thatch of dead leaves should be removed periodically. These native palms survive light fires to remove the thatch because their vascular systems are spread throughout the trunks, not right under bark like other trees. Also unlike other trees, palms have no true bark and do not show growth rings.

Last Update: 2015-02-13