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Favorite tree of California

16 years ago

A question about favorite trees in the trees forum got me to thinking that this would also be a good topic for a California perspective. As we can grow so many types of trees here, and across the state, there are so many different types of forest and woodlands, it is hard to list just one favorite tree. I'd be interested to here other's takes on their favorites, and why. Here are some of mine:

I'd probably have to say that trees with exotic trunks, bark or flowers are the ones that I prefer. One tree that combines all of these attributes in one tree is Brazilian Floss Silk tree, Chorisia speciosa. I find the sculptural bright green trunks with heavy thorns, towering size and vivid orchid pink blooms in winter when the trees are almost leafless is something that appeals to me, and is just the thing to see in bloom as we head into winter. the South African Cape Chestnut, Calodendrum capense is another exotic blooming now, that I find irresistable in bloom, for being so "other" and also beautiful.

Another similar blooming subtropical tree is the entire Tabebuia genus, which has so many species that light up the forest when they bloom at the end of the dry season in places like the west coast of southern Mexico or Brazil. Tabebuia chrysotricha and T. impetiginosa are pretty magnificent even as ordinary street trees as seen around southern California.

But perhaps my most perfect tree is actually a palm, Cocos nucifera, which is the essence of the tropics, and looks as good as a young plant, or by the thousands lining tropical shores. Not only is it beautiful, but so supremely useful for food, water, building materials, and to string up a hammock and enjoy the shade and breeze off the ocean.

Favortie trees that are less tropical, would include those with such beautiful smooth bark as our native Madrone, Arbutus menziesii, or the much easier to grow hybrid, A. 'Marina', which is almost never without bloom or colorful fruit, and has such graceful, twisting and sinuous branching and lovely smooth deep cinnamon bark. Lemon Gum Eucalyptus, E. citriodora is also in this category, with the smooth peeling bark that reveals the powdery white trunks, the statuesque form and wonderfully fragrant citrusy foliage are not bad either.

If I had to only pick natives, there are so many here in California that have their own special charm. Valley Oaks, Quercus lobata can be so strongly dramatic in profile in winter, sentinels in the landscape and so provident for wildlife. Really old Coast Live Oaks, Quercus agrifolia can be just as dramatic as a Southern Live Oak for imparting atmosphere and a connection with the past. The California Buckeye, Aesculus californica is also wondrous in winter with its contorted smooth gray branches that contrast so well against both the green hillsides of spring, or the tawny golden hillsides of fall, and the way it is the first to leaf out, often as early as February, and the massively showy blooms later in May.

Coast Redwoods commingled with Douglas Firs, Madrones and Big Leaf Maples are also all beautiful in their own right, especially when viewed as a mountain backdrop in the coast hills, and are original growth. There are so many other California native forests and trees that have their own impressive beauty, such as the forests of Monterey Pines and Monterey Cypress on the Monterey Peninsula, or Ponderosa Pines up in the Sierras, with their massive trunks with fragrance of vanilla on a hot day, and such large distinctive cones.

Lastly, the Australian imports such as Eucalyptus viminalis and E. globulus have their own charm when seen as remnant windbreaks or boulevard plantings from the turn of the last century, and even more so when they catch the fog and drip it down to those below, effectively mining the clouds of their moisture. I wouldn't want one in my own garden, (for lack of space and unwillingness to have to keep up with the constantly shedding debris), but they are beautiful from a distance.

So many trees have their own particular charm, and it is a pity that there are not more mature urban plantings for everyone to really appreciate the beauty that trees can add to a landscape. I often feel fortunate to have grown up on the San Francisco peninsula, in the era that the grand estates with their vast plantings of exotic trees from around the world were still there, and being able to wander the hills as a boy with his dog, and take it all in.

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