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.
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?
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.
There’s no question as to how this tree got its name- its flowers look strikingly like tiny pink trumpets. But, the Trumpet Tree genus can be otherwise referred to as Tabebuia, Ipê, or Lapacho. The Tabebuia/Trumpet Tree/Ipê/Lapacho has over 100 species. With such an impressive springtime bloom and with a native range stretching from Mexico to Argentina, it’s no wonder that cousins of the Pink Trumpet are the national trees of both El Salvador and Venezuela.
My grandmother, with her self-proclaimed infallibility and notorious bossiness, used to sneak into my bedroom when I had a cough to rub Vics Vapor Rub on my chest. She knew it would make me feel better, but what she didn’t know was the reason behind its magic was the camphor oil – a soothing anesthetic similar to menthol and extracted from the Camphor Tree’s bark. The tree originated in China, Japan and Korea, but has had a strong presence in the LA street tree scene since the 1930’s. It is perhaps best recognized for the size of its canopy compared to the height of its trunk at nearly a 1:1 ratio.
Of the 3,000 palm species in the world, none are native to Los Angeles. But, when I see the silhouette of a Mexican Fan Palm through sunset glare, I feel an overwhelming sense of being home.
I love how after a good bout of the Santa Anas, driving becomes an arcade game as you dodge fronds strewed about the streets. The untrimmed palm is adorably Cousin Itt.
Is there such a thing as an Angeleno who can’t write a love song for the Fan Palm?