Arecaceae (palm family) Washingtonia

Washingtonia robusta Mexican fan palm

Mexican fan palms line the east entrance of the Science and Engineering Quad. Sairus Patel, 11 Dec 2022

Tall slender trunks and glossy dark green crowns distinguish the Mexican fan palm from its California cousin, W. filifera. The latter is stouter and shorter, with fronds a muted jade. After you meet a few of both, you’ll be able to quickly tell the difference.

There are hooked spines on the leaf stalks. The flower clusters are rather interesting, if you can find one low enough to see it properly. They are later followed by large bunches of shiny black ⅜-inch dates.

An avenue of 10 was planted at the west gateway to the Inner Quad around 1968 when Lomita Mall was laid out, their trunks echoing the visual rhythm of the arcade columns. They were about 20 feet tall when planted, so the resulting overnight effect was impressive. Several senior members are to be found behind Building 460 and in the islands in the Inner Quad, where they were second only to the late Casuarina glauca in height.

A wave of popularity for new plantings of tall specimens of this fan palm set in just before 2000. There is a spectacular group of 36 – six rows of six each – at Schwab Residential Center in the interior courtyard adjacent to the east building. In 2002, the east entrance to the Science and Engineering Quad was furnished with 22 trees approaching 40 feet in height. Eleven years later, as the rest of that quad was being completed, 24 more were installed at the west entrance. Stand there and look down the East-West Axis towards Main Quad: soaring Mexican fan palms frame four segments of the uninterrupted view ending at Green Library. Frederick Law Olmsted and Leland Stanford had planned for multiple quads to be built along this axis in the future, on either side of Main Quad, rather like railroad cars added onto a train. One could imagine the side quads leaving the vista along this axis entirely open, as the Science and Engineering Quad has done. However, Green Library was planned as the central feature of an east quad and does indeed terminate that view. And as the University Architect has astutely noted, Green Library will never be moved.

Name derivation: Washingtonia – after George Washington (1732–1799), first President of the United States; robusta – Latin, stout.

About this Entry: The main text of this entry is based on the book Trees of Stanford and Environs, by Ronald Bracewell, published 2005. Heavy edits; addition of SEQ west and the Stanford/Olmsted plans (Feb 2023, SP).