My brother was in town from upstate New York a couple of weeks ago - his first time here in 25 years. Like me when I first arrived 30 years ago, he wasn't familiar with California trees - and it was the red flowering gum that most captured his attention. "What's that tree?", he asked as we passed this specimen, on the north side of 17th street between Cole and Shrader. I wasn't surprised – the red flowering gum (Corymbia ficifolia) is one of San Francisco’s most striking trees, and the flowers peak in July and August. The tree has clusters of brilliant red, pink, orange, or white flowers. It can’t be easily reproduced from cuttings, and when it is reproduced from seed, nature rolls the genetic dice, so the flower color rarely matches that of the parent tree. Large, smooth, and woody seed capsules (which look like the bowl of a pipe) form after the flowers and hang onto the tree for many months, often until the next year’s flowers are in bloom.
Red gums are well adapted to San Francisco’s climate (the largest red gum in the United States is said to be within San Francisco city limits), and they can be counted on to thrive almost everywhere in the city. The native range of the red flowering gum is a very small area (approximately 1 square kilometer) in western Australia, southeast of Perth.