Though not native, palm trees are symbols of island life. And after about two years of work, a local group has developed a proposed ordinance it hopes will protect them and preserve the aesthetic and natural value the plants bring to the island.

Although the island already has a tree protection ordinance, palms don’t fall within the scope of this rule because they’re not actually trees, but are more closely related to a grass.

The city’s tree committee has been working on an ordinance since 2017, committee Chairman Ray Hensarling said.

The ordinance only aims to protect significant palms, which are a specific species on the island, Hensarling said.

The proposed ordinance provides standards on removing palms, replacing palms that were removed and for planting of palms.

The city’s planning commission approved the standards this week, but the draft must go to Galveston City Council for final approval.

While palms aren’t native to Galveston, they provide significant benefits to the island, said Nancy Greenfield, a tree committee member and local advocate for trees.

Palms help soak up flood water and provide shade, Greenfield said.

“Landscaping does a lot more than people realize,” Greenfield said.

The ordinance won’t just cover palms in public or city properties, but on private property as well, Greenfield said.

This ordinance is especially important now because it will regulate the way people take down palms at a time when there’s a wilt disease affecting palms on the island, Greenfield said.

If people follow the ordinance, they should be able to reduce the chance of spreading the disease, she said.

“If they have a sick palm and you cut it with a chainsaw, the next person’s going to get it,” Greenfield said.

Creating this palm-specific ordinance is important because the health of a palm is measured differently from the health of a tree, which generally have thicker trunks and grow wider leaf canopies, said Priscilla Files, executive director of the Galveston Island Tree Conservancy.

Palms are very valuable and replacing one that’s taken down can be expensive, so it’s important to protect the ones Galveston has, Files said.

Palms don’t provide as much shade or water absorption as trees, but their effect is still beneficial, Files said.

Removing an old palm can also affect the value of a neighborhood, Files said.

“They also have a great aesthetic value,” Files said. “They have a historic value to Galveston.”

That’s one of the more important reasons for protecting palms, Hensarling said. The palms are part of the island aesthetic, he said.

“They furnish shade,” Hensarling said. “They furnish beauty. A tall, graceful palm waving in the wind goes a long with the island picture.”

Keri Heath: 409-683-5241; or on Twitter @HeathKeri.

(9) comments

Robert Braeking

Great. Now we need to protect non-native invasive species. What's next for tree hugger protection? Chinese Tallow trees? I cut down 15 trees yesterday on my property. It was good.

Bailey Jones

Take your chainsaw up to Washington - that place is crazy with cherry trees from Japan. Then maybe head west and eradicate the tumbleweeds. You can't even watch a western without one of those Russian imports rolling by.

Bailey Jones

When are the police going to catch the palm tree arsonist? He's torched at least 2 trees in the last few months - that's just the ones I know about, there are surely more.

Mary Lofaro

Palm trees are also homes to those lovely "palmetto bugs" aka roaches with wings!! And that's why I hate Palm trees!! LOL

Kelly Naschke

How about the palm tree zealots focus their time and energy on more pressing matters that would actually make a difference homelessness???

Steve Fouga

I love seeing the palms here on the Island, in fact I wish my yard had palms rather than oaks, but I generally disagree with ordinances protecting trees on private property.

By the way, what's up with the palms the city recently planted along Seawall Blvd? They look like they need water...

Michelle Aycoth

You are the devil, Oaks rule !

Andrew Aycoth

Dan Freeman

Loved my 25' Queen Palm. After the last freeze it was time to come down. Sad to have done.

Steve Bentz

I am not a palm lover. I have a bunch of them and all they provide is debris and they require almost constant attention. I would much rather have a pecan tree! At least its debris is edible.

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