Trees lining iconic Palm Walk to turn 100 years old

When you think of ASU’s Tempe campus, the image that comes to mind is most often Palm Walk.

The long walkway, stretching from the Student Recreation Complex north almost to University Drive, is lined on both sides with Mexican fan palms (Washingtonia robusta). 

Though they appear to be all the same, appearances can be deceiving. Yes, they are all Mexican fan palms, but some are nearing their 100th birthday – and the end of their lifespan.

Grounds Services plans to replace them with more Mexican fan palms, according to Ellen Newell, director, since “they are an iconic symbol of ASU.”

The first palms were planted in 1916 by Arthur John Matthews, who arrived at Tempe Normal School in 1900 to become president of the upstart school. As the campus was developed, and Palm Walk lengthened, ASU added palms of matching height – and therefore age – to create continuity.

Now, said Newell, all of the palms will have to be replaced. “We have not done a complete estimate yet as the replacement size will have quite a bit to do with the final price," she added.

"The replacements will probably be done in increments – a section at a time (from University to Tyler or Orange and then Orange to the SRC, for example). The removal of the old palms will also be expensive as it will need to be done with cranes and the irrigation system will need to be updated, etc.”

When Matthews arrived at Tempe Normal School, he found, according to author Dean Smith, a “weedy 20-acre campus,” with cattle grazing in the shade of the Old Normal Building.

Matthews, namesake of Matthews Library – later Matthews Center – took on the role of “gardener-in-chief,” in addition to his presidential duties, and began transforming the weedy plot with trees, bushes and hedges. Matthews planted 1,478 trees of 57 varieties, 5,738 feet of hedge, and 1,512 shrubs, in addition to the Mexican fan palms along what was then Normal Avenue.

For more information about the trees and donating to the palm tree replacement fund, contact Ellen Newell at