Know Your Trees
So it is turning into Tree Week here. Following up on comments on pictures of palm trees in Dolores Park, I came across Michael Sullivan’s book The Trees of San Francisco.
It has some stark descriptions of a treeless San Francisco:
- Shortly after arriving in San Francisco in 1776, the Spanish described the area as “the very worst place [for settlement] in California . . . since the peninsula afforded neither timber, wood nor water, nothing but sand, brambles and raging winds.”
- Before the gold rush, “much of San Francisco was largely treeless, its grassy hills interrupted by only a few live oaks and California buckeyes huddled in wind sheltered valleys.”
- when Nikita Khrushchev visited San Francisco in 1959, he reportedly commented on the city’s beauty but noted the remarkable lack of trees.
Things got better — trees were planted as the city grew, but this 1887 photo looking at the Presidio towards the Golden Gate shows how stark the landscape was. The eucalyptus, pines and cypress planted in 1882 are what you see today. (Historical images from SFPubLib and Calisphere.)
(Hover/click on any of these images to get to the original source.)
And here we have miniature palm trees in Dolores Park from 1909. This was first picture of palms in the park I can find — they didn’t seem to be there pre-earthquake).
This picture is undated, but I’m guessing the early 1920s given the buildings size of the trees on Dolores St. (I don’t think those palms grow very fast.)
Here we have kids on the swings in 1929.
(These kids would now be in their 80s.)
Swings and trees, 1935:
Slowest. Trees. Ever.
Dolores St seems to have gotten its boulevard palms in stages, starting in the 1920s.
1934: short palms at Dolores and 22nd (big gap to the south):
No palms looking south on Dolores from 23rd, 1923 (though there are some on the top of the hill):
Opposite direction, 1958 (looking north from 24th street):
The book has a list of the 20 most popular trees planted by Friends of The Urban Forest since they started in 1981 following budget cuts that effectively killed the city’s tree planting program. (They plant about 1000 a year, 43,000 since 2004. Go donate.)
Reading through this list I only recognized a few of the names, but when I started looking them up they all looked familiar. I share my newfound pattern matching with you, internet. Most pictures from FUF’s flicker feed, latin names point to Wikipedia.
1. purple Leaf Plum (Prunus cerasifera) – Cultivation
2. Japanese flowering cherry (Prunus serrulata) – Japan
3. New Zealand Christmas tree (Metrosideros excelsus) – New Zealand
4. small-leaf tristania (Tristaniopsis laurina) – Australia
5. strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo) – Europe
6. Brisbane box (Lophostemon confertus) – Australia
7. Victoria box (Pittosporum undulatum) – Australia
8. mayten (Maytenus boaria) – Chile and Argentina
9. southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) – United States
10. ficus (Ficus microcarpa) – Asia
(Don’t think they are planted any more — they buckle sidewalks, and a freak freeze in 1990-1991 killed many off, according to TTOSF. A bunch on Potrero? The above is Spear.)
11. Bailey’s acacia (Acacia baileyana) – Australia
12. bronze loquat (Eriobotrya baileyana) – Asia
13. Indian hawthorn (Rhaphiolepsis ‘Majestic Beauty’) – Asia
14. hopseed (Dodonea viscosa) – Australia, others
15. cajeput tree (Melaleuca quinquenervia) – Australia.
(Now I’m no botanist, but cajeput is coming up as Melaleuca linariifolia, which is described as “spongerubbery” while quinquenervia is a) hard to type, b) invasive in Florida per this exciting report, and c) often described at a Paper Bark Tea Tree, so don’t get your trees in a knot.)
16. callery pera (Pyrus calleryana) – Asia
17. ginko (Ginko biloba) – Asia
18. olive (Olea europaea) – Mediterranean
19. glossy privet (Ligustrum lucidum) – Asia
20. evergreen pear (Pyrus kawakamii) – Taiwan
Moving from new trees to old trees, many in the city are getting landmark status. Some palms on Dolores are protected, as is the huge Moreton Bay fig in front of St. Luke’s on Valencia (which unfortunately lost a branch last month.) These and other important trees are listed on the Landmark Trees page.
Our Valencia Street moreton bay fig in all its glory:
Anyone know how old it is?