Once restricted to a small group of islands off the coast of northwest Africa, human horticultural practices have turned Canary Island Palms into a globally distributed tree species. Often seen as border plantings along transit corridors in cities with Mediterranean or Subtropical climates, Canary Island Palms can harbor unusual parawild plant communities that live 20 - 40 feet above the ground in unique aerial habitats.
Trunk scales below the palm leaf crown collect moisture and debris, forming pockets of soil that germinate seeds and spores of plants carried by birds roosting in the fronds. Surprising aerial botanies can result. Along the Embarcadero, a major transit artery in San Francisco's Northeast Waterfront District, Canary Island Palms support diverse ecosystems of ferns, street tree seedlings, ornamental shrubs, grasses and vines that hover like floating islands above the flows of pedestrian and vehicle traffic below.
PALM READING OBSERVATION STATION
Developed for an Exploratorium public program on urban street botany, live specimens of plants commonly seen as epiphytes growing on Canary Island Palms were displayed on a tripod mounted circular table graphic. A spotting scope fitted with a digital screen accompanied the display, enabling observers to explore the aerial plant life growing on nearby street palms at magnified scale.
Exploratorium Pier 3 Observatory site, San Francisco. 2011