Story at a glance

  • The Miami Beach City Commission plans to plant more shady trees to provide cooling effects and remove carbon from the atmosphere.
  • City officials have stated that this will not result in cutting down palm trees, but the addition of other species.

Climate change could be threatening the iconic palm trees that line Miami Beach, with local city leaders planning on scaling back the number of new palms planted in the city and switching to trees that provide more shade.

The initiative is part of the Miami Beach City Commission’s recent urban forestry master plan, which would reduce the volume of palm trees planted in Miami Beach to 25 percent of the total canopy in the city by 2050. More shady trees will be added in their stead. 

Doing so would help reduce urban warming resulting from overall climate change and help absorb more atmospheric carbon and rainwater.

The plan was presented and approved in October 2020.

“Palms, while an iconic part of Miami Beach’s landscape, have moved from being an accent plant to a major component of the city’s urban forest,” the report reads. It notes that palm trees compose 57 percent of the 48,900 public trees and palms that grow in Miami Beach.

The plan outlines how common city surfaces, like sidewalks, roads and buildings, can trap heat and increase temperatures within city perimeters to unhealthy highs. Incorporating more shady trees would reduce the amount of radiant energy absorbed and stored by these impervious surfaces and thereby cooling city residents. 

Mandating more shade trees for canopy cover would effectively cool the city and help mitigate climate change through carbon capture. 

“Due to the overabundance of palms throughout the city, this requirement encourages residents, developers and businesses to plant more shade trees, increasing canopy cover and tree benefits while allowing palms to be planted as accent plants,” the report states.

Some of the types of shade trees eligible for planting include the red maple, Brazilian beautyleaf, wild tamarind and the live oak, along with dozens more. Shade trees characteristically grow very tall and have an equally wide spread.

Speaking to The Miami Herald, the city’s environmental and sustainability Director Elizabeth Wheaton noted that Miami Beach officials are not cutting down palm trees; rather, they will plant more species that provide greater amounts of shade.

“Palms are not actively being removed, rather canopy trees are being prioritized for planting to increase the city’s tree canopy percentage citywide to maximize environmental, social, and economic benefits of trees,” Wheaton told the press in an effort to assuage fears of losing palm trees in Miami Beach altogether.

Published on Feb 26, 2021