Why plant palm trees on Alki? ‘Beach-y whimsy,’ says Parks, among other reasons

In case you missed it – our Friday mention of those palm trees, just planted at Alki Beach Park (hat tip again to Connie), were the most-discussed WSB story of the weekend. We promised to follow up today with Seattle Parks, whose Joelle Hammerstad responded, first checking out the comments and then putting together this Q/A:

Q: Why are there palm trees at Alki?

A: The palm trees planted last week are part of a larger project to improve and beautify the landscape along Alki Beach. For the past several years, Parks landscape architects and plant horticulturists have been working to add interest to the landscape along Alki. Among the many projects undertaken include planting sea grass, arranging interesting and attractive and driftwood along the beach and adding an element of beach-y whimsy with the addition of palm trees in this location.

Q: How many trees are there?

A: There are 9 palm trees located in this landscaping area. The two most recent trees planted were by far the most mature. There are seven smaller palm trees grouped with the two larger ones. The addition of these last two trees completes the landscaping plan for this area of the beach.

Q: How much did the trees cost?

A: The trees were free. L & B Nursery in North Seattle donated the trees to Seattle Parks and Recreation. We received the donation last year, but only put them in the ground recently. After receiving the donation, we allowed their root system to mature a bit more before planting them. Mature palm trees are sold for around $125 a foot. We estimate that the donation for these trees is between $2,500 and $3,000.

Q: These trees are not native to the Pacific Northwest. Why did Seattle Parks and Recreation plant them?

A: These trees are native to China. They are a temperate species called Windmill Palm trees, and come from a region of China that gets colder than Seattle. Seattle Parks frequently plants non-native species in Seattle’s parks. When park visitors encounter a flowering tree in Seattle’s parks, they are usually seeing a non-native species. These include flowering cherry trees and dogwood trees, but also non-native ornamental trees, such as Japanese Maples. Nearly all the flowering annuals that bring bright colors to flower beds in the summer are non-native.

Q: The trees will impair the view.

A: Palm trees have an inherently small canopy. As they get more mature, they simply get taller. Their small canopy will grow higher and higher and impinge less and less on views. They will reach a height of about 35 feet.

The palms in our photo are near Alki’s 53rd Street Pump Station.

61 Replies to "Why plant palm trees on Alki? 'Beach-y whimsy,' says Parks, among other reasons"

  • chas redmond March 24, 2014 (2:39 pm)

    Thanks for the information. I always wondered about the palm trees I see here and there around Gatewood. They all appear to be healthy and not bothered by our climate here in the PNW – so they’re native to a China region that gets even colder. Now it makes sense!!

  • brad March 24, 2014 (3:52 pm)

    I moved here from Southern California 25 years ago to get away from things like palm trees, shallow “beach-y” people, and neon-colored clothing. I hope the parks department doesn’t decide to plant cactus, too.

  • Alice Haury March 24, 2014 (3:54 pm)

    The Palm trees are a great addition to the beach. Now can they do something about Alki Ave and Beach Drive POTHOLES! For a scenic route it doesn’t say much about about the drive around the beach.

  • CanDo March 24, 2014 (4:14 pm)

    The Parks Dept has lost their minds. Next they’ll want a row of palms or yes, probably cactus, at Lincoln Park. Beauty IS in the eye of the beholder and in California or Hawaii the palms are beautiful, because they fit the landscape. Not so much here… in my eyes.

  • Jen March 24, 2014 (4:21 pm)

    Is it too soon for a hammock?

  • Ray March 24, 2014 (5:18 pm)

    You know what else it needs?

    Banana trees. Those are “beach whimsical.”

    So are crabs. We should import a lot of sand crabs.

    And jelly fish. Those are “beach whimsical”.

    And monkeys.

    I mean, there are monkeys that live in temples of the mountains in Japan and can deal with cooler, snowier and wetter climates.

    How about pine trees? Madronas?

    The Parks department is all about killing and eradicating non-native species, and here they bring in these purposely. For “beach whimsy”.

    I sure hope Cactus takes advantage of the marketing opportunities.

  • Mary March 24, 2014 (5:26 pm)

    Yeah, sorry. This is the PNW — why are we trying to look like California? (or China?) Or worse, some terrible faux Cancun drinking joint called “Hurricanes” or something.

  • Ray March 24, 2014 (5:44 pm)

    The more important question, this being Seattle….

    What is the earthquake preparedness for these tress?

    They do not have the wide-ranging tree roots of pine trees or madronas – more of a root ball. They can handle decent winds, but not excessive winds. But more importantly, HOW WILL THEY BE SECURED AGAINST EARTHQUAKES>!?!?!?!?!?!?!? These are an accident waiting to happen!!!! Someone’s precious little yapper poodle might gets smooshed in a mild trembler.


  • Chris March 24, 2014 (6:01 pm)

    Well I hate the flowering none native trees and let’s not mention those ugly Japanese Maples.
    You may not like them but get off the “non-native” negativity unless you dislike all the non native plants all over the state. Just hate on the palm for palm sakes.

  • miws March 24, 2014 (6:18 pm)

    So, what the hell was Parks supposed to do with this generous donation from L & B Nursery; run them through the chipper and compost them?


    And, OMG!!!111 it was sunny and warm today!


    Seattle’s supposed to be rainy and chilly all the time!!


    What is happening to our City?!?



  • West Seattle Hipster March 24, 2014 (6:29 pm)

    I would much rather have eco-friendly palm trees instead of the criminal activity that migrates to Alki when the weather is warm.


    For a community that pretends to celebrate diversity, we sure have intense intolerance with “non native” intruders (palm trees, chain restaurants are two that come to mind).


    Other folks should have our “problems”. We’ve got it easy compared to most. It is amusing reading the reactions of some people to this life changing event.

  • Born on Alki March 24, 2014 (6:33 pm)

    Coconuts, where’s the darn Coconuts? Can we get some white sand and sea turtles too perhaps? Oh, don’t forget some bamboo plants. And a lagoon, we can make one just like Gilligan had. :-)

  • Craig March 24, 2014 (7:04 pm)

    I love the Palms at the beach. And no need to worry about them propagating so I am not sure why anybody is worried about them being none native, especially in a state where many people are oggling the Cherry tress today and other flowering tress parked in the mitst of Pine and Madrona trees and soon will be watching thier Japanese Maple trees bud.

  • cruzer March 24, 2014 (8:07 pm)

    Really stupid.

  • Toni Reineke March 24, 2014 (8:24 pm)

    The Parks Dept. comments about other, accepted plants being okay with the public misses the mark. Those palm trees do not belong there for aesthetic reasons. They stick up like sore thumbs. There are many, many other trees that can be had for next to nothing.


    Also, Parks did not say how much it cost us in labor to transport and plant them. Probably not insignificant!


    Once again, WSB, thank you for being our eyes and ears!!

  • West Seattle since 1979 March 24, 2014 (8:28 pm)

    I never realized palm trees in Seattle were controversial!

  • West Seattle since 1979 March 24, 2014 (8:30 pm)

    And by neon clothing, do you mean anything that’s not black or gray, especially for outerwear?

  • Rosey Palm March 24, 2014 (8:37 pm)

    @Born on Alki – I think these trees were already neutered by the negative comments above. Sorry, no coconuts ;(.

  • hc March 24, 2014 (8:38 pm)

    I like the palm trees. People need to relax and see we have bigger issues than palm trees.

  • Kennedy March 24, 2014 (9:23 pm)

    Really this much uproar over the addition of 2 palm trees? Don’t we have bigger issues to deal with like the traffic on the bridge and the crazy amount of condos they are building?

    @ Toni. Even with the parks department used a different tree they would still need labor and transportation and these tress were FREE!!

    @Ray Palm trees have to deal with hurricane’s so any storm we have shouldn’t be an issue and lets be honest if there is an earthquake strong enough to knock down trees we probably have way bigger things to worry about like knocked downed buildings.

  • vanilla gorilla March 24, 2014 (9:23 pm)

    Love em!!!
    we need more around seattle thanks seattle parks

  • Chris W March 24, 2014 (9:27 pm)

    Do I see cameras on those palm trees?

  • ttt March 24, 2014 (9:57 pm)

    Thanks for ruining the Seattle landscape… palm trees on our beaches look ridiculous. Dumb idea park dept.

  • KBear March 24, 2014 (10:13 pm)

    I guess the University of Washington should get rid of their non-native cherry trees. I wonder how many of the negative commenters here have cherry trees in their yard? Or monkey trees? (They seem to be all over West Seattle.) Or tomatoes in their garden?

  • MellyMel March 24, 2014 (10:19 pm)

    What this shows though is how a parks and rec department doesn’t know how to manage its perception by the public when they have their hand out for funds every vote.
    It’s kinda like that friend you loan 50 bucks to – you dont really want to see them that evening out having drinks at the bar even though it might be fine.

  • K March 24, 2014 (10:22 pm)

    Some angry comment about tree opinions.

  • West Seattle since 1979 March 25, 2014 (6:12 am)

    MellyMell, bad analogy. The trees were a gift, not money. What were they supposed to do with them?

  • old timer March 25, 2014 (8:18 am)

    I like the palm trees. I hope they adapt to their new home and that in time, will be accepted into the community – just as so many plant immigrants have been.
    Diversity – it’s not just for people you know!

  • workdown March 25, 2014 (8:44 am)

    Well said old timer! I think they are great. Thanks L&B Nursery for the donation.

  • Kathy March 25, 2014 (8:55 am)

    I vote yes to the palms. I’m an Alki resident since 1976. Nice draw for tourists and visitors from other parts of Seattle, too, which our neighborhood, like them or not, needs to survive.

    We have a beautiful 53 acre native plant preserve a few blocks away behind Alki Elementary School which gets very few visitors compared to Alki Beach: http://www.seattle.gov/tour/schmitz.htm

  • MellyMel March 25, 2014 (9:07 am)

    @West Seattle since 1979

    The part of my analogy that the friend is out drinking “but it really might be fine” was meant to be analogous to them being “free.”
    Perhaps it is fine, but it LOOKS bad. Hence they have a problem with perception management.
    Also, while the plants might be free, wanna bet me that the cost of installation was billed back against the city’s park budget?

  • wakeflood March 25, 2014 (10:09 am)

    Wow, 30+ comments about a few trees in the public space? I guess any hint of controversy regarding gov’t spending of ANY size gets folks wound up?

    Someone please call me AFTER the poi and before they dance the hukilau. Love the hukilau.

  • happyneighbor March 25, 2014 (10:34 am)

    Love the palm trees! For god’s sakes they are trees people! They will do just fine and the majority of people will love them and appreciate our beach even more.

    What I do not love are the NIMBYs always chiming in and complaining about any kind of progress in our city. Like it or not Seattle is a city and cities thrive on diversity, both human and vegetative. If you want to live somewhere with no diversity, move to the country!

  • Greystreet March 25, 2014 (10:35 am)

    I will never understand the hippocrisy that this city throws at itself. People lose their minds if you cut a tree down, people lose their minds if you plant a tree, uproar over non-native plants and trees yet most yards are littered with non-native perennials.

    What gives? Different strokes for different folks, and I think that a smattering of non-native and native plant species are beautiful arrays that last all four seasons (cue the antagonist who will say that non-native species will invade delicate natural habitats and ruin the ecosystem as we know it). Let’s all just step back and accept the city for how beautiful it is, both naturally and unnaturally.

    Besides…a LARGE percentage of us were TRANSPLANTED here ourselves, so let’s let it go.

  • wscommuter March 25, 2014 (11:21 am)

    I read the article and then saw “34 comments” … said to myself, “no … it CAN’T be that people are bitching about the gift of a couple of trees … no one could be that silly …”

    Snark … grumble … harrumph …

  • Cory March 25, 2014 (11:39 am)

    It is *so* funny to hear all of the complaints here. If you recall not even the sand at Alki beach is native, it was imported to the area! Chill out already and enjoy the palms. Good job Parks!

  • BlairJ March 25, 2014 (12:05 pm)

    I can’t wait to go down to Alki on a sunny day, sit under one of the palm trees, and pretend it’s warm outside.

  • My God! You are quite literally the worst people in the world March 25, 2014 (12:21 pm)

    Seriously. Look deeply into your soul with every key stroke you type to complain about palm trees. Think about the cool, easy-going, fun person you thought you were going to be… and contemplate the self-righteous shriveled up prune-souled person you have become and scream. WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO ME. Then go rent “footloose” and know that everyone who reads your anti palmite comments thinks of you like the John Lithgow character.

  • Greystreet March 25, 2014 (12:29 pm)

    @My God…that was simply brilliant :)

  • wakeflood March 25, 2014 (12:45 pm)

    That made my day, MG…

    Lessun’ you think that it’s all the old-timers round these parts who have their adult diapers in a bundle about this, I give you MIWS and me, who have been here since we was mere zygotes, give or take, and we say, bring ’em on.

  • Gary E March 25, 2014 (1:23 pm)

    The steps and cement and cars and houses aren’t native. Get rid of them.

  • sam-c March 25, 2014 (1:52 pm)

    oh my goodness people, you would think that the Parks department had just planted morning glory every-where. chill out.

  • Clarke March 25, 2014 (2:24 pm)

    MG with the comment of the year.

  • Wendell March 25, 2014 (2:31 pm)

    As much as I prefer Madrona trees, I’m looking forward for the first WSB post of a family of raccoons sitting in a palm tree.

    • WSB March 25, 2014 (2:38 pm)

      Wendell, to date I’ve never received a photo of a coyote on the beach, so I doubt we’ll get raccoons either.

  • Joe March 25, 2014 (2:33 pm)

    These palm trees are stupid and look way out of place, but it’s still nice to see the parks department and city PLANTING trees. The city is usually busier letting the developers DESTROY countless mature trees all over West Seattle so they can build another high-rise, treeless apartment/condo complex. These palm trees don’t make this area look like Los Angeles as much as the UgLy, beehive, high-rise apartments do.

  • wakeflood March 25, 2014 (3:46 pm)

    I seem to foggily recall an intro to geology class at Western where we trundled down to the sandstone formations of Chuckanut Mtn. and observed palm leaf fossils.

    “Native” is a relative thing.

  • Robin March 25, 2014 (4:51 pm)

    My God! comment VERY funny! If the sand is non-native (was Alki originally a rocky beach?) should we get rid of that too? I love the look of the palm trees, the sand and the gentle waves on a sunny day…transports me to a place that is not grey Seattle!

  • WSince86 March 25, 2014 (5:26 pm)

    Greystreet & My God- you nailed it! Too funny!!!

  • Cascadian Biodynamics March 25, 2014 (5:36 pm)

    I would be down for them to plant some cactus, perhaps one to the prickly pears native to Sequim.

    Opuntia fragilis – Brittle Prickly Pear

  • pretendingtobeinHawaii March 25, 2014 (8:36 pm)

    Yippee! Now when it’s sunny and I spend time on Alki, my fantasy of being in Hawaii will feel even more real. Love it! Thanks, parks!!

  • Kelly March 25, 2014 (9:48 pm)

    This “conversation” has made me feel so much better. I hate palm trees, too. They look out of place in Seattle neighborhoods–like stucco houses. It’s called having a sense of place. I don’t want to pretend I’m in Hawaii when I’m on Alki. I’m not going too lose sleep over these new ones, though. In fact they’ll probably make me smile to think that I’m not alone!

  • Julia March 25, 2014 (10:47 pm)

    1. I don’t care one way or the other about palm trees on Alki. 2. The palm trees in Southern California aren’t native there either 3. They’re probably fake trees hiding cell towers or Homeland Security cameras. 4. With so much tragedy going on now, it’s nice to have something lighter to fuss about.

  • RCS March 25, 2014 (11:09 pm)

    Oh my gosh people. They should have just planted all of these commenters along Alki. Because they are all being a stick in the mud.
    You all think Palm trees look “unnatural” along Alki??? What about the concrete? And the liberty statue? You think Japanese maples got that name because they were planted by Japanese? Half of the specimen plants you see in our parks are not native. If you really wanted Alki to look more natural to its surroundings, then petition to stop having fresh sand trucked in.
    Stop being so dang ungrateful of the generous donation from this nursery. You all sound like spoiled kids who complain about what they got for Christmas.
    And for the record, there already is a Cactus on Alki and they make a mean margarita.

  • Mike March 25, 2014 (11:21 pm)

    No, remove them.

  • David March 25, 2014 (11:22 pm)

    The palm trees look great on the beach. I’ve always liked the small ones in this same area on the beach – several shots of them with the sunset light shining through them are among the photography I’ve done in West Seattle. “Native” is a relative thing. All of these two-legged creatures driving their metallic vehicles on their paved roads and living in their fabricated structures aren’t exactly native to the West Seattle landscape either. I think all the whining about the planting of this very generous donation falls into an obvious category: FIRST. WORLD. “PROBLEMS”.

  • Stephanie March 26, 2014 (12:06 pm)

    I love it! So fun!!!

  • Heidi March 26, 2014 (1:05 pm)

    I LOVE them! They make me happy:)

  • Wendell March 26, 2014 (3:39 pm)

    Tracy, My glib comment looked like it got lost in translation. I was referring to this type of photograph. I could really care less about the issue of a few palm trees on a trucked-in beach.

  • unknown March 26, 2014 (7:32 pm)

    Now all we need is for the coyotes to make their home under these palm trees and the comments will roll off this blog like there’s no tomorrow! LOL!!!!

  • Robert March 26, 2014 (9:25 pm)

    To all those complaining about the trees because they’re not “native”; unless you’re from one of the tribes, you’re not native to the area either.

    That being said, why not live by your own words and remove yourselves first. ;)

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