Stately and distinctive, the California fan palm is one of the most widely grown palms in subtropical climates. California fan palm can grow 60 ft (18.3 m) tall with a crown spread of 15 ft (4.6 m). The massive gray trunk is barrel shaped and ringed with old leaf scars, and may reach over 3 ft (0.9 m) in diameter at its widest point. California fan palm can have up to thirty gray-green palmate (fan-shaped) leaves, each 3-6 ft (0.9-1.8 m) across. They spread out to form a loose and open crown. The petioles (leaf stems) of mature palms are armed along the margins with curved thorns; those of young palms are largely unarmed. The individual leaflets are pendulous and swing freely in the wind. Abundant cotton-like threads on and between the leaflets persist even when the palm is mature. If old leaves are not removed, they form a continuous "petticoat" from the crown all the way to the ground. The California fan palm produces numerous branching flower clusters that project out and often downward from the leaf crown. The bisexual blossoms are white and yellow and give rise to oblong or round red-black fruit, each about a 0.5 in (1.3 cm) in diameter. It is native to the southwestern U. S. and Baja California. It is the country's largest native palm. Primary populations are found in desert riparian habitats at spring- and stream-fed oases in the Colorado Desert and at a few scattered locations in the Mojave Desert. It is also found near watercourses in the Sonoran Desert along the Gila River in Yuma, along the Hassayampa River and near New River in Maricopa County, and in portions of Pima County, Pinal County, Mohave County (along the Colorado River) and several other isolated locations in Clark County, Nevada.
The small fruits are harvested when ripe and eaten fresh or dried, or made into jellies and drinks. The seeds are also edible and were widely used by Native Americans who ground them into meal for making bread or porridge. Palm oases were important habitation sites for the Cahuilla and other tribes. The fan palm provided abundant fruit that was relished by the Cahuilla. It was eaten fresh or dried in the sun and then stored in ollas for future consumption. The seeds and flour were pounded into a meal, mixed with other flours and water to a mush. A beverage was made by soaking the fruit in water. The leaves were used for clothing, sandals, thatching, and basketry materials, the fruit stalks for fire drills, and leafstalks for household utensils. The Cahuilla, Diegueno, and Luiseno of southern California used the leaves for matting, stuffing and in rough ropemaking. It is a good tree to use for dry urban landscapes, for example in Texas, Arizona and California. Zones 8b-11.
- Soak the seed in water for 24 hours.
- The seeds like moist, well-drained soil. Prepare a mixture of half potting soil and half sand, perlite or vermiculite.
- Put the soil in a pot. Water the mixture so that it is moist but not wet.
- Sow the seeds ¼ inch deep.
- Water the seeds.
- The seeds need warm temperatures to germinate (75 degrees F). Place the pots in an area with warm temperatures in full sun or part shade. Germination tends to be slow. The seeds take from 4 to 15 weeks to germinate. It is faster in warm temperatures.
- When the seedlings have a few leaves, they can be transplanted.