ESCONDIDO — The elegant, imported palm tree — for decades a symbol of Southern California — is facing hard times.
For more than five years, palms in southern San Diego County have been stalked by the invasive South American palm weevil, which crossed the border from Mexico and now infests trees as far north as Chula Vista. Before that, it was the Asian red palm weevil discovered earlier this decade in Orange County before being declared eradicated in 2015.
But the ubiquitous trees, except for a single species of fan palm, are invasive species themselves and marked for removal from county-owned Felicita Park in Escondido through a grant approved last week by the San Diego County Board of Supervisors.
“Non-native species, like these palms, monopolize resources that other native tree species need to survive,” said Jessica Geiszler, a parks department spokeswoman. “They steal water and take nutrients away from the local oaks and sycamores. Additionally, palms are costly and difficult to maintain, and serve as hosts for undesirable rodents and varmints.” The $15,000 neighborhood reinvestment grant approved on Aug. 1, along with $4,300 approved earlier this summer, will be used to hire a contractor to cut down 30 large palm trees in the park. Parks staff regularly remove smaller palm trees, Geiszler said, but a thick stand of larger trees along Felicita Creek require specialized equipment to avoid disturbing surrounding habitat, she said.
Department policy requires each tree removed from county parks to be replaced with three native species. In the case of the Felicita palms, replantings will be funded from the regular departmental budget and are not covered by the grant, Geiszler said.
The 54 acres that would become Felicita Park were part of Mexican land grants issued to Don Jose Franscisco Snook in 1842 and 1845 and bought by former San Diego County Sheriff James McCoy in 1867 for grazing sheep.
In 1918, the land was bought by Ransford and Elinora Lewis, who grew lemons, oranges and grapes. The property was bought by the county for $12,000 in 1929 and named for Felicita LaChappa, an American Indian who lived in the nearby San Pasqual Valley. The park is a listed on the National Register of Historic Places in part for its heritage as the site of a significant Kumeyaa Indian village.
Geiszler said the palm tree removal is part of the parks department effort to “keep it true to its natural state, while at the same time ensuring it remains a favorite gathering place for San Diego families.”
Other neighborhood reinvestment grants approved this month for North County projects include $15,000 to the Escondido Sunrise Rotary Club for its annual Grape Day 5K Run/Walk and $15,000 to the San Diego County Medical Foundation for its Solana Beach Sunset 5K.