Palmed off

Palms are on Bayswater’s “Garden City” logo and flank its civic centre, but they’re not considered trees and can be pulled out on a whim. Photo from City of Bayswater.

Push to protect ‘non-trees’ falters

A PALM is not a tree, according to Bayswater council, and so can be removed with impunity.

The quibble came up in a motion raised by councillor Sally Palmer for the city to look at placing a ban on removing palms from public spaces unless it was approved by the full council or public utilities were at risk. The city has an urban tree policy designed to protect its canopy, but under much-debated definitions some dendrologists classify palms as “tree-like” plants and not actual trees, since they don’t widen their trunks with new rings.

Bayswater has been using that exclusionary definition for at least five years, meaning their technical services director has been able to remove palms without council approval and can replace them with true trees. 

Canopy

Bayswater staff reckon the palms-aren’t-trees ruling should remain, since the city’s on a mission to improve canopy cover and tall palms with six scraggly fronds provide pretty paltry shade. Staff recommended palms continue to be replaced with true trees at the tech director’s discretion. 

But Cr Palmer questioned this policy, saying her main focus was on preserving the phoenix dactylifera date palms “that we see adorned outside out own civic centre, outside Bayswater waves and places of prominence. 

“I’m not necessary talking about the large Mexican palm trees that wave 60m in the air,” she said.

“These trees take years to grow and of course they do have a status of their very own, they look very suitable where they are they also mingle very nicely with our native fauna.”

Deputy mayor Filomena Piffaretti agreed they should reconsider the rule. “It isn’t something we’ve ever heard from any of our residents in the area, that they don’t want the palm trees there, or that they want to see the palm trees replaced.”

Cr Barry McKenna, while not the biggest fan of palms personally, agreed they were part of the area’s heritage and were intertwined with a prominent Bayswater figure. 

“You all know his name, but you probably don’t know it’s his responsibility that all the trees are down there: Frank Drago.

“Manager of parks and gardens for 30 years, Frank being Italian, love-a-the-palms,” Cr McKenna said.

“A lot of people who’ve grown up in Noranda have grown up with those palm trees.”

Not everyone agreed on preserving palms. 

“Who doesn’t love palm trees?” Cr Catherine Ehrhardt posed. 

“Me. I’ll be quite up front about that, they’re probably up there with Queensland Boxes for me,” another tree with underwhelming branchery.

She noted palms didn’t provide food or habitat for native wildlife and seemed to only attract rats. 

Cr Giorgia Johnson agreed: “They attract rats. We poison the rats. The rats are eaten by owls, and owls die in Lightning Park, so I’m not a big fan of palm trees.”

Crs Ehrhardt and Johnson were joined by Cr Lorna Clarke in voting to keep the current palms-aren’t-tree rules, but a majority of councillors agreed to send staff off to write a report on changing the policy.

Mayor Dan Bull noted it was “probably one of the most bizarre debates” seen in the 30 years Cr McKenna had been on council, but agreed they should investigate protecting the iconic palms. 

Noranda is named for Noranda Park in Florida. Like Bayswater council, Florida features the palm on its logo, but even that palmiest of places is slowly phasing them out.

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