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Naples Botanical Garden pushes back on Florida cities removing palm trees

palm trees - naples botanical garden
Posted at 5:29 PM, Feb 25, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-28 06:58:55-05

Florida is known for a few things: beaches, sunshine, and of course palm trees. But in response to climate change, those palm trees that we love in Florida have come under attack. Places like Miami Beach and West Palm Beach are planning on reducing the number of palm trees and replace them with what they call more climate change friendly trees.

For those that don’t know Fort Myers, is known as the city of Palms. Like Fort Myers, Miami Beach is known for it’s palm trees. Miami Beach says that palms don’t do well in capturing carbon and in providing shade. Their plan is to reduce their current urban canopy from 57% palm trees to 25% by 2050. Miami Beach Commissioner Steven Meiner, who voted for the plan agrees with adding more shade trees, but he calls the plan to remove palms a mistake.

“It is an economic mistake; it is cultural and even historical,” said commissioner Meiner. “A lot of the palm trees that we have are 75-80 years old.”

Meiner added, “Just the impact it has on tourism and even on our residents, I really don’t think you can put a price tag on it.”

Miami Beach plans to remove or not replace current palms that die as part of the plan for net zero carbon to combat climate change. Fort Myers took steps to become more environmentally friendly last Friday, with the signing of a memorandum to have Naples Botanical Garden consult the city on environmental projects and landscaping. Chad Washburn is the Vice President of Conservation at the Garden. He says that removing palms isn’t so simple.

“The reason they have come under such scrutiny, especially in Miami, is because they don’t take in as much as carbon as board leaf tree would,” said Washburn. “However, the urban forest has so much more benefits than per say carbon.”

Washburn called palms essential to the urban forest, because they help prove clean air and water and homes for birds and insects. He also says in changing climate palms are well suited for our tropical climate. With hundreds of types of palms, it is about choosing ones that require less water and fertilizer.

“We want to include plants from our ecoregion,” said Washburn. “That are adapted to our area. That take poor alkaline, sandy, limestone soil. That are adopted to hurricanes and to the winds. And adopted to maybe a little bit warmer climate. And palms are one thing, there several other trees and shrubs that are in the Caribbean, that are and can be part of our urban forest.”

Washburn added it is important to have biodiversity in the species of palms and other plants in our urban canopy.

Washburn says, “the more biodiversity we have, the more resiliency an ecosystem has. For example, including palm trees in the ecosystems, it brings in a lot of pollinators, bees, insects, beetles that pollinate those palms that may not be attracted to different broad leaf trees.”

For Fort Myers, Washburn says the palms trees give us a sense of place.

“Palm trees are such an important part of our sense of place, said Washburn. “Think of Fort Myers, it’s the city of palms, and without that it could just be any other tropical climate.”

Right now, there are no plans to replace the palm trees in Fort Myers. As for Miami Beach, commissioner Meiner tells me he working with Miami Beach to change its policy and prevent palm trees from being removed from neighborhoods. Message he and other officials are getting is more shade trees are great but don’t mess with the palm trees.