L.A. Palms / Garrett Leight

Let’s get right to the fact that although it functions as a tree, a palm tree is botanically more similar to grass. There are no branches, and no tree rings mark a palm’s life span; nevertheless the plant species’ existence in California have etched their mark firmly into the state’s history. Pretty much all of the palm trees you see are not native to California, as with many things you find in our state. Palm trees come from all over the world, living at all different altitudes and latitudes. The California fan palm is actually the state’s only native species, and it doesn’t even grow where most of us live. They flourish from Palm Springs down to the Mexico border and into the mountains of Baja. As beautiful and stately as they are, they’re pretty insignificant as a plant to rival say the Sequoia as a state symbol. But they do.

The Mexican fan palm is what we know of as the iconic media symbol of California – giant sentinels towering over us in long lines down the streets of Los Angeles. It was at first thought of as too much, when LA was just a pipe dream, or maybe an aqueduct dream. They were too big and made the space seem empty. But that’s since changed. It’s the branding of In-N-Out, the symbol of the movie industry, a beacon of wealth and fortune, the leviathans standing tall over the stripmalls and low lying sprawl of Southern California. Its tall skinny mop top is reminiscent of a surfer drying off after a session, swaying in the wind. - Patrick Sullivan