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.
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.
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.
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.
The Melaleuca’s flowers are of a similarly playful pipe cleaner design to those of the Bottlebrush, and justifiably so because they’re both in the Myrtle family. The Melaleucas’ leaves and trunks also have similar shapes and hues to its fellow Australian cousin, the Eucalyptus. But, the Melaleuca does have one feature that sets it apart – it’s bark. There are many ways in which the internet is limiting, but in this case I just can’t convey the texture of Melaleuca bark. I strongly suggest you smoosh the trunk of the next Melaleuca you encounter because you will find it is delightfully smooshable.