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.”