Category Archives: Trees of Los Angeles
He’s gone to smell the loquats…
Funny how even without context it’s still pretty clear what that means. That turn of phrase grew common in China where they once referred to brothels as “the gates of loquats” because the loquat blossoms smell so delicious. The trees grow rampant across this city, but people don’t seem as excited about them here as they might be in China. Maybe we just don’t know what they are or maybe we just don’t own a tall enough ladder to reach the fruit. Either way, if you put in the effort you’ll find a sweet stone fruit, not a citrus as its name’s likeness to the kumquat might imply. “Quat” means orange in Cantonese. Kumquat: golden orange. Loquat: reed orange, meaning the tree likes to grow where it’s swampy like a reed.
Even though “Hollywood” montages of Los Angeles show palm trees galore, the official tree of Los Angeles is the Coral Tree. I always assumed we called it “coral” because of the color of its flowers, even though that never really made sense because the flowers are red, not coral. My second guess, still related to the flowers, was that because they are clustered in inflorescence, it kind of looks like sea coral. Wrong again! The name comes from the fact that their branches look like sea coral. But, when a tree has such vocal flowers, who’s paying attention to the branches?
Perhaps the most impressive stand of Corals in the area is along San Vicente between the VA and the beach. There are about 120 trees planted along 5 miles of the ex-Red Car median. They were planted sometime after WWII. In 1976, they became a historic-cultural monument. In 2013, Brentwood residents are fighting to raise funds for the trees’ maintenance. Learn more about their campaign here: http://www.brentwoodcommunitycouncil.org/resources-links/our-coral-trees
I’m well aware of what a hardy winter means, after all, I did go to college in Maine. But, I feel almost reasonable when I say that I was grumpy for those 3 recent weeks of “cold” because one of my favorite Southern Californian amenities is its warmth.
Everyone says, “Angelinos forget how to drive when it rains.” Partly, yes, but we can’t ignore the facts that no one here has all-weather tires, our streets weren’t built to drain adequately, and oily deposits always surface because the rainfall is so infrequent. Likewise, we’re equally susceptible to the cold because our buildings aren’t properly insulated, we don’t have closets stuffed with long underwear, and most importantly, the cold hurts the heart as though the skies have broken their promise.
All of this is to say, I love spring. What more could you ask of a tree than for it to bring the promise of spring in the early month of February with its tiny white flowers? For this reason, I feel quite fond of the Ornamental Pear Tree and I am willing to overlook the fact that it is highly invasive across the United States.
Sometimes we call this tree the Pineapple Tree because its unshaved trunk is a fabric of diamonds like the skin of a pineapple and its feathered fronds look like a pineapple’s crown. But, while a pineapple is largely a summer fruit, these benevolent palms grace us with greenery year round. And for the fronds that do, inevitably, brown and sag, we can trim them and build forts.
If I told you it has a green stem and thorns, you’d call it a rose bush. If I told you it makes silk, you might call it a worm. And if I said it’s South American with extremely flashy pink flowers, I don’t know, maybe you’d call it a flamenco dancer? Either way, it is none of these things.
The Silk Floss Tree is perhaps one of the most unusual specimens in Los Angeles, but it is not unusual to see them lining our streets. Though I’ve chosen to point out how they are strange, we have chosen them because they do exactly what we want them to do… Just when you fear summer is winding down and fall is setting in, the Silk Floss’s flowers burst onto the scene. How can you not love this late bloomer?
Though sociologists and world peace optimists might watch the Olympics to witness a global community, most of us sit glued to the television for 2 weeks to witness the rewards of ultimate athleticism. Since very few of us are willing to completely surrender our lives to becoming the very best, we must watch others win the gold medal instead. Us laymen must settle for charming bundles of yellow flowers presented to us by the Gold Medallion tree. We might not get bragging rights, but we do get butterflies and drought tolerant growing conditions.
In France you would call this tree a flambouyant bleu. “Blue is a very difficult color to achieve in botany,” a horticulturist with the Los Angeles County Arboretum told the LA Times. The Jacaranda would have to agree with said horticulturist, as its flowers are more of a bluish violet. No matter how you call it, their cheer is abundant across our city streets.
“And it is in the humble opinion of this narrator that strange things happen all the time. And so it goes, and so it goes. And the book says, ‘We may be through with the past, but the past ain’t through with us,’” we are told in Paul Thomas Anderson’s 1999 epic love story to the San Fernando Valley, Magnolia.
While the Southern Magnolia is native to the American South, it not only lines the streets of the San Fernando Valley, but the entire Los Angeles basin. The flower was used as an emblem of the Confederate army, but unlike the assumption made by Anderson’s narrator, we’ve let go of its past. And thankfully so because these giant white flowers can make even the sleepiest of men smile. They’re so grand, in fact, they have earned it the Latin name, Magnolia Grandiflora.
You could easily show up at Elysian Park, have a lovely picnic, and go home without having any idea you were smack dab in the middle of a 100+ year-old arboretum. Despite the fact that the entrance to the arboretum is poorly labeled, many of the 138 different species of trees in this collection are labeled. For more about the arboretum check here: http://www.laparks.org/dos/horticulture/chavez.htm
As that first Spanish expedition descended into the San Fernando Valley in the summer of 1769, they named it, El Valle de Santa Catalina de Bononia de los Encinos. Translation: The Valley of St. Catherine of Bononia of the Oaks. The oak tree, like the ill-fated Historic-Cultural Monument #24, had rightfully weaseled its way into the hearts of those explorers.
The Silky Oak’s bottlebrush-like blossoms might amuse us as though they had fallen straight from a Dr. Seuss fantasy, but it is not the Silky Oak for which the valley was named. In fact, this tree is native to Australia.
Even though its flowers are curious, don’t touch the bark… it’s poisonous.