Friday, March 28, 2014

Rare Palm Tree Is The Pride of Canoga Park

By Michale Hemmingway, Quilt staff


It can be seen for literally blocks away. Walgreens does a brisk business selling t-shirts bearing its silhouetted image. It’s known far and wide as the "tree that put Canoga Park on the map" and as of today, it’s official: the palm tree at the corner of Gresham and Covello, in the tight-knit Greshello neighborhood, is the world’s tallest nude palm.
Canoga Park's famous Nude Palm. Staff photo.

“Nude palms are one of the plant world’s oddities because they’re one of the few true trees of the order Arecales that grow without any sort of leaves, fronds, needles, or other chlorophyll-producing greenery whatsoever,” explains Pierce College Winnetka professor of dendrology Dr. Morris Detzer. “This one is particularly remarkable because of its height. Usually, they’re considered an eyesore and destroyed before they grow even half as tall as this one.”

But grow it did and what was originally a source of deep shame and embarrassment for the community eventually gave way to a pride that grew as big as the nude palm itself. Finally, last fall, neighbor Alan Herndon decided the tree deserved some recognition and put it before the Canoga Park Friendly Neighborhood Council.

“I was the only one there to speak and sat through an unbelievably long recitation of the previous month’s minutes and other incredibly mundane council business before they finally opened up the floor and I had two minutes to make my case,” Herndon recalls. 

Apparently he put forth an impassioned, convincing argument because a motion was immediately put through, voted on, and passed by all four members of the council in attendance. 

“Resolved: Have someone send Guinness Book of World Records an email about this,” reads the official minutes. "Maybe ask Betty. She's good with stuff like this." 

But the wheels of municipal government sometimes turn slowly, and it was eight weeks before anyone realized there was no one on the neighborhood council named "Betty."  

Known as "The Pride of the West Valley," Canoga Park's celebrated Nude Palm — the tallest in the
world — can be seen from blocks away, in this case all the way from Cohasset Street. Staff photo.
"I have no idea who wrote that down, nor who they meant by 'Betty.' There was a 'Betty' on the council in the mid-1970s, Betty Hamilton, I think, but she's been dead for years," explains Leonard Chiapetta, CPFNC Undersecretary In Charge Of  Transcribing Each Month's Jotted Post-Its Into The Official Record. "So I went on the computer and emailed the Guinness people myself - once I found their website on the World Wide Web."

Last week the long-awaited reply came - but it wasn’t what anyone hoped for: 

Dr. Morris Detzer
Photo: Mimi Detzer
“Thank you for your recent inquiry but Guinness does not recognize height records in different species of trees," begins the letter. "Our sole entry in this category is the world tallest living tree, with the title currently being held by Hyperion, a 379-foot tall coast redwood in Redwood National Park. If you feel sometime in the future that your tree has outgrown Hyperion, please feel free to contact us again.”

Undaunted, Chiapetta called the botany department at nearby Pierce College Winnetka. That afternoon, Dr. Detzer himself drove over to see it in person and verified it was the world’s largest nude palm, estimating it, via the QG, or Quick Glance, Method at “oh, about seventy, eighty feet or so.” 

Word spread quickly and residents in the neighborhood, thrilled by the news, wanted to install some sort of monument or notation at the base of the palm, commemorating its vertical distinction.

Local business leader Walgreens sells
shirts featuring the nude palm.  $5.99
each or 2 for $10.  Photo: Walgreens.
A bake sale was immediately organized and held, and while it was successful, the cost of the plaque exceeded its profits. A car wash, a community yard sale, another three weekends of car washes, a silent auction, a second community yard sale, and two more weekends of car washes followed. Finally, a donation from a local car wash made up the difference and the forty-two dollar bronze plate was paid in full.

Volunteers hit another snag during what was to be the plaque's installation ceremony: Attempts to attach the plaque by drywall screws, then a succession of increasingly larger drywall screws, and eventually, 1/2” carriage bolts nearly a foot long were unsuccessful, as the tree’s trunk was found to be too soft. Each attempt failed as the fasteners kept coming loose and falling out along with a dry, fibrous powder as well as a profusion of insects.

It was then decided to mount the plaque on a signpost in the ground on front of the tree. It will be installed, pending Canoga Park Friendly Neighborhood Council approval, sometime this summer, in time for the gala celebration and events surrounding the second anniversary of the Canoga Park Centennial.

Alan Herndon reflects on all that he started with a sense of wonderment as well as what neighbors attest is his characteristic modesty. 

Says the lifelong Canoga Park resident, “Somehow my aim has been completely misconstrued here. I really just wanted someone from the city to come over and cut it down.”
This handsome bronze plaque (shown here slightly larger than actual size)
is the result of a civic-minded community working together.   Staff photo.

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