Are Palm trees native to Arizona?

Palm Walk at Arizona State University (Source: ASU)
Palm Walk at Arizona State University (Source: ASU)(Arizona State University)

Seems like palm trees would be native to Arizona, but palm trees were brought in by immigrants who wanted reminders of their more tropical homes.

The palms came from Mexico, Southern California, Florida, Africa and the Middle East. No one remembers palm trees in the territory before people started bring them here. We also know that palm trees need lots of water, something the desert doesn’t have naturally.

But we love our palm trees. What would Palm Walk at ASU be without them. Bermuda Grass Walk?

What would the Arcadia district be without them? Have you ever driven along 44th Street south of Camelback Road and noticed all those date palm trees?

They were planted in the 1920s by a farmer named Roy Franklin, who fell in love with the Black Sphinx Date Palms and their small fruit that tasted like honey. About 150 palms grew into 6000 palms by the 1930s, some of which you can still see in this east Phoenix neighborhood.

So while it’s obvious Roy Franklin’s date palms weren’t native and ASU’s palm walk aren’t native there’s an interesting thing going on in western Arizona.

In the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge, about 20 miles south of Quartzsite, you’ll find a small mountain called Signal Peak.

Follow the signs and you’ll enter a small canyon, Palm Canyon.

In that canyon, about 40 Mexican Fan palms that some believe are native to Arizona are thriving, a remnant from the last time North America was glaciated and Arizona’s climate was rather temperate.

Other experts say no, they’re not native to Arizona. They say the seeds came from coyote or bird droppings from palms in southern California. So we don’t know for sure. But maybe we’re looking in the wrong place for our answer.

Palm-like trees grew in northern Arizona 225 million years ago in the Late Triassic Period. How do we know that? We have some of their remains which make up the Petrified National Forest near Holbrook.