St. Francis Wood massacre

The St. Francis Woods neighborhood has always had professionally managed street trees -  when the neighborhood was laid out in the 1920s, the developer created a resident-funded homeowners association, and gave it control over the neighborhood’s street trees.  The result has (usually) been beautiful and consistently cared for trees in the neighborhood. 

So it was shocking to drive down Santa Clara Avenue and see dozens of eucalyptus trees topped so severely that not a leaf was left.  It’s the worst example of pruning I’ve ever  seen in San Francisco. I know that this neighborhood is unusual in the unusual local control it has had since the 1920s, but I have to believe that the city has the ability to levy fines for this abuse. 


Victor Reiter garden in bloom

 The Reiter family garden, wedged between Stanyan Street, Woodland Avenue and the Sutro Forest, was once a commercial nursery run by Victor Reiter, one of the founders of the California Horticultural Society and San Francisco‘s most famous grower, hybridizer and collector of plants and trees.  The garden is still in the family’s hands, with two of Reiter’s children still residing on the west side of Stanyan Street. Reiter was a collector of unusual trees and plants, and many of his specimens are still thriving in the garden.  The garden’s Campbell’s magnolia (a wedding present to Victor and his wife Carla from an English well wisher) is now in full bloom.  Hoheria, firewheel tree (Stenocarpus sinuatus), lilly pilly (Syzygium smithii) , northern ratas - all trees that are rare or nonexistent on San Francisco’s streets, can still be found in the garden, hints of Victor Reiter’s hand, long after his death in 1986. 

The garden is private, but you can catch a glimpse from the Sutro Forest trail that starts just a few feet above the corner of 17th and Stanyan streets - the garden is visible on the right after a short walk into the forest. 

Campbell’s Magnolia (Magnolia Campbellii ssp. mollicomata)

Campbell’s Magnolia (Magnolia Campbellii ssp. mollicomata)


Hoheria populnea foliage

Lilly pilly (Syzygium smithii) fruit

Lilly pilly (Syzygium smithii) fruit

Street Tree Numbers are Down - and there's a Reason


The Department of Public Works (DPW) Bureau of Urban Forestry recently announced that the number of street trees removed by the City in 2017 exceeded the number of trees planted - meaning the total number of street trees in San Francisco went down last year. That’s not a big surprise - with the passage of Prop E in 2016 (now called “Street Tree SF”), the City took back responsibility for all street trees in the city, and with a backlog of aging, sick or dead trees, most experts expected there to be an upward blip in removals.

However, there’s another structural reason that tree numbers may continue to decline, which I noticed when DPW tagged a number of trees in my neighborhood of Cole Valley for removal (one of the notices is in the photo to the left). If you look carefully at the notice in the photo, you’ll see that a total of 21 trees were tagged for removal, but (look at the bottom of the flier) only 12 permitted to be replaced. Why? In some cases, the existing trees were too close to underground utilities; in other cases too close to streetlamp poles. In yet other cases the trees were too close to other existing trees. DPW maintains a set of standards for planting street trees, and in some cases these rules have tightened over the years, so a tree basin that was plantable years ago may no longer work today.

What this means is that there is a structural factor that will result in fewer street trees, year after year. DPW’s rules for the placement of street trees are there for a good reason, and I’m not suggesting that they be changed.* However, we need to realize that as we lose street trees in the ordinary course of urban life - from age, or disease, or getting hit by a delivery truck, many of them won’t be replaceable.

What’s the solution? We need to accelerate plantings in places where no trees existed before. And now that the City is in charge of our street trees, that means getting more funding. We all need to push our supervisors for more funding for street tree planting - because if we don’t, you’ll start to see fewer and fewer trees in the neighborhoods.


* OK, I do have one quibble. The City disallows trees within a few feet of a streetlamp pole - because you don’t want a tree blocking light to the street. But there are plenty of small trees that would work in those spots, and never grow large enough to be a problem. Especially now that DPW controls things (including the species of trees that get planted), I think that’s a rule that could be relaxed.

TransBay Roof Park is SPECTACULAR!

Chilean wine palm ( Jubaea chilensis )

Chilean wine palm (Jubaea chilensis)

I got a tour of the park that is the roof of the new Transbay Transit Center last week - Adam Greenspan, the landscape architect who led the design of the park, was kind enough to give me a guided peek at what is about to open to the public this weekend.   It's hard to decide which superlative to use to describe the new park (many would apply), so I'm just going to say that it's *spectacular*.   I had known for some time that the designers of this park were curating interesting species from around the world, but you have to see this place to appreciate what a special amenity is about to be bestowed on San Francisco.  

I will leave it to others to comment on the landscape design of the park - I'll just describe the imagination and deep botanical knowledge that went into the collecting of the trees and plants you'll find here.   Greenspan has largely used trees and plants from Mediterranean regions of the world, taking advantage of plants that will do well in San Francisco's climate.   There are trees from California, of course - California buckeyes, Monterey cypress, and other trees commonly seen in San Francisco, but also a dozen or more California sycamores (Platanus racemosa), a coastal California tree which is almost never seen in San Francisco streets.

As you walk around the perimeter of the park, you come to a Chilean garden (with several monkey puzzles), a South African garden, an Australian garden (with some amazing Brachychitons - both B. acerifolia but also B. rupestris (Queensland bottle tree - with a striking bulbous trunk), and two separate desert gardens on the west end of the park, with three striking dragon trees (Dracaena draco).

My personal favorite in the garden is a still small Wollemi pine (Wollemia nobilis) - the tree that had been thought to have been extinct for hundreds of millions of years until a couple dozen of the species were discovered in a ravine near Sydney, Australia.  (Hello, Rec Park - we need a lot more of these in San Francisco parks!)  The wollemi pine is located in the roof's "ancient garden", with ginkgos, cycads and other plants that have graced the earth for millions of years.  

monkey puzzle tree ( Araucaria araucana )

monkey puzzle tree (Araucaria araucana)

But I think the most spectacular trees in the park are the palms - Greenspan loves palms, and it shows, especially with the majestic Chilean wine palm that is set in a central lawn of the park, not far from pindo palms, some nikau palms (native to New Zealand), various Trachycarpus species (not just our common windmill palm, T. fortunei), a few Brahea species, and on and on and on....  There are probably a dozen palm species here that are rarely or never seen in San Francisco.   

So run, don't walk, to see this park when it opens!   I just hope that we can keep the Transbay Roof Park in the shape it's in now - it's going to take a lot of work to keep this garden looking as good in 10 years as it does now.  I volunteer to be a maintenance docent!