Pick the right tree for the right situation before ditching palm trees to fight climate crisis

Reporter: Stephanie Byrne
Published: Updated:
FILE: McGregor Boulevard is known as the “Avenue of palms”. The two mile stretch of royal palms were planted by Thomas A. Edison in 1901.

Palm trees are iconic in Southwest Florida, especially if you take a drive down McGregor Boulevard in Fort Myers.

While we love to see them in our landscape, is there a better alternative for our planet?

Beneath the lush greenery of the garden at Edison and Ford Winter Estates are the people who keep the grounds in tip-top shape.

The estate’s horticulture director, Debbie Hughes said she is “Going on 15 years. I’ve been taking care of the property here and it’s a wonderful place … I am totally in love with all plants. There’s not a plant I don’t like – except invasive ones.”

In the face of climate change, canopy trees take in more carbon than palm trees, among other benefits.

“The canopy trees have a lot more shade, of course,” Hughes said.

A recent news report from South Florida had many people upset at the suggestion of not planting palm trees.

Does that mean we should replace iconic palms? Hughes doesn’t believe so.

“The palm sometimes provides shade in a place where no other tree can fit, because they’re slender, and they’re just easy care,” she explained.

The way she sees it, all kinds of trees can sequester carbon, you just have to plan.

“Maybe the developers or people that are building, a lot of these urban areas need to provide more green space so the canopy trees can grow easier. Their root structure takes up a really, really large area we’re talking, if the tree gets to be 50 feet, you know that those roots are going to go 50 feet out. Now it has an impact on the roads, it has an impact on the buildings and the cement,” Hughes added

And while palm trees don’t necessarily hold more carbon, they can hold their own much better in a storm.

Royal palms, which are native cabbage palms, lose some of their fronds, but they just keep on growing.

The bottom line, you just have to pick the right tree for the right situation.

Lee County tells us it works to improve environmental quality by preserving native vegetation, relocating native trees, and water conservation.

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