My Favorite Tree

I'm often asked about my favorite tree.  Not the type of tree I love most, but my favorite individual tree in San Francisco.   This tree, at 1221 Stanyan Street in Cole Valley, is my personal #1, and it's in full bloom right now (it's Memorial Day 2016 as I write; I took the photos below yesterday).

Yellow New Zealand Christmas Tree - 1221 Stanyan Street

Yellow New Zealand Christmas Tree - 1221 Stanyan Street

This tree is one of the city’s best specimens of New Zealand Christmas tree (Metrosideros excelsa), popular for its showy red bottlebrush flowers. And, indeed, all of the many hundreds of New Zealand Christmas trees on San Francisco’s streets have red flowers, except for one—at 1221 Stanyan. Every year around this time, that tree pops with spectacular yellow flowers.

How did this tree end up with yellow flowers? The story goes back to Victor Reiter, San Francisco’s most famous plantsman from the 1940s until his death in 1986. In 1940, there was a natural mutation of the species on tiny Motiti Island in the Bay of Plenty in New Zealand, and Reiter was one of the first Californians to obtain a cutting. As the Reiter family lived in several homes in a three-block stretch of Stanyan Street, they planted the curiosity in front of their 1221 Stanyan address—still occupied today by a family member. And more than 70 years later, the tree is thriving. It’s a beautiful mutant with an amazing history and pedigree—and my favorite tree in San Francisco.

Some Spring Flowers

I was out this weekend, and saw some great Springtime flowers - all on Parnassus Avenue near Cole Street.   And all from Australia! Two types of bottlebrush, and a fragrant sweetshade tree.   Enjoy!

Sweet shade (hymenosporum flavum)

Sweet shade (hymenosporum flavum)

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Weeping bottlebrush (callistemon viminalis)

Weeping bottlebrush (callistemon viminalis)

Lemon bottlebrush (Callistemon citrinus)

Lemon bottlebrush (Callistemon citrinus)

Sunnyside Conservatory

Sunnyside Conservatory.jpg

I've known about the Sunnyside Conservatory for some time - it's a Victorian-era conservatory at 236 Monterey Boulevard with a long history - abandoned by its original owners, the lot at one point was so overgrown that a subsequent buyer of the lot had no idea that the conservatory was even there - it had been overgrown by vegetation.   But I also knew that there were some unusual trees on the property, so last weekend I wandered by to check it out.

I found some interesting stuff - one of the city's largest and most mature wine palms (Jubaea chilensis).  On the steps up to Joost Street is a stunning Caracas wiganida (Wigandia urns) - with giant, showy purple flowers - only the 2nd one I've found in San Francisco.   And to the right as you face the conservatory is some kind of Banksia - in the protea family, with unusual yellow flowers.   

Banksia flower

Banksia flower

Chilean wine palm (Jubaea chilensis)

Chilean wine palm (Jubaea chilensis)

Wigandia urens

Wigandia urens

Victorian Box Blooms Out En Masse

VictorianBox

The Victorian box (Pittosporum undulatum) is one of San Francisco's most common trees, and small white flowers of the tree are out all over the city - as usual in late February/early March.   They aren't conspicuous visually, but they have the strongest fragrance of any common tree in San Francisco, and when they emerge en masse, they can fill entire blocks with their orange blossom-like perfume.   It's a smell that I associate strongly with San Francisco, as I've never seen any city that has this tree more densely than SF.   One of my first memories of San Francisco was walking down Hyde Street, preparing to turn on Pine  to walk downtown to my first job, and smelling the Victorian Box trees around the corner before I saw them!

The flowers of this Australian native are followed by groups of small green fruits, which they turn yellowish, then orange, and finally break open dropping a sticky mess on whatever's below.   As a result, the tree has dropped in popularity a bit, with some trying the sweetshade tree (Hymenosporum flavum) instead.   Sweet shade is another Australian tree