Wollemi pine in the Ancient Plant Garden at the Arboretum

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Thought to have been long extinct for 100 million years, and known only from fossil records, the Wollemi pine (Wollemia nobilis) became a botanical revelation in 1994, when a few dozen specimens were discovered in a deep ravine in the Blue Mountains, 100 miles west of Sydney, Australia.  The director of the Sydney Royal Botanical Gardens was quoted as saying this discovery was "the equivalent of finding a small dinosaur still alive on Earth."  The tree is from the Araucaria family, and so is a relative of the Norfolk Island pine, monkey puzzle tree; bunya-bunya, cook pine, etc. 

The location of the 100 or so Wollemi pines was initially kept secret, to protect the small grove of trees. Before announcing the discovery, the  Sydney Royal Botanical Garden propagated cuttings and distributed them worldwide to botanical gardens and nurseries before announcing the discovery. 

There are only two outdoor specimens of Wollemi pine that I know of in San Francisco, and they're both in the Botanical Garden, in the Ancient Plant Garden.   Both were received in 2004, so they're about 10 years old.   The adjacent photo is one of them.    

This is probably not a good street tree for planting in sidewalk cuts, but I think it’s a great choice for side yards or open spaces. Hello, Recreation and Park Department? Hello, Presidio Trust?   The trees are very easy to order commercially (I was surprised recently to discover that some friends had a Wollemi pine in a pot in their living room).   If you want to participate in the effort to get more of this interesting species planted in San Francisco, you can order one here:  http://www.wollemipine.com/index.php 

Theater Artaud - a Palm Paradise

Chilean wine palm (Jubaea chilensis) on Florida Street 

Chilean wine palm (Jubaea chilensis) on Florida Street 

I was lucky to go on a Friends of the Urban Forest walking tour of the Project Artaud grounds in the Mission recently with Jason Dewees, who I think of as SF's leading palm expert.  During the tour we met up with Benjy Young of Artaud, who is responsible for planting all of the palms around the property.  Benjy’s father collected rare palm trees and Benjy has honored his memory by planting a garden of rare palms in this little corner of the Mission.  

There are more than a dozen different palms around the property.   I had known about the Chilean wine palm on the property (Jubaea chilensis), which is the large palm with the very thick trunk on Florida Street between 17th and Mariposa - you can't miss it.  But there's a lot more here, including some very rare trees for San Francisco.  

One of the coolest trees on the property is planted in the sidewalk, right at the corner of Florida and Mariposa Streets - it'a a Guadalupe palm (Brahea edulis).  It's native to Guadalupe Island off of the Western coast of Mexico; in fact it's endemic to that island, meaning that it's found only there.  Jason believes that this palm is a great choice for San Francisco (not surprising, as Guadalupe Island's Mediterranean climate is similar to ours) and in fact Guadalupe palms were recently used to re-landscape the median of Cesar Chavez Street not far away.  

Guadalupe palm at corner of Florida and Mariposa

Guadalupe palm at corner of Florida and Mariposa

 

What I loved about this tree at Florida and Mariposa is that it was producing hundreds of perfectly round, golfball sized fruits.  And since that block of Mariposa slopes gently down to Alabama Street, the round seeds have rolled down the flat sidewalk and street, and self-seeded in several places on the block - little volunteer Guadalupe palms are coming up on their own.   Pretty good evidence that this tree that is well-adapted here!

Other trees in or around the Project Artaud block:

  • Brahea armada (Mexican blue palm):  Mariposa Street close to Alabama Street (small tree with bluish fronds)
  • Butia capitata (Pindo palm): on the west side of Florida St. between 17th and Mariposa (as you face the wine palm, it's the small palm with very curved fronds to your right)
  • Chamaerops humilis (Mediterranean fan palm): on Florida St. between 17th and Mariposa; just behind the wine palm 
  • Jubaea chilensis (Chilean wine palm): in addition to the huge-trunked tree on Florida St., there are also two tiny wine palms in gigantic clay pots on Florida, close to Mariposa
  • Parajubaea cocoides (Quito palm):    on Florida St. side, the tall palm growing next to the large Brazilian pepper tree inside the courtyard
  • Bolivian Mountain Coconut (Parajubaea torallyi):  on Florida St. just to the left of the wine palm 
  • Phoenix reclinata (Senegal date palm):   near the corner of Florida and 17th 
  • Rhopalostylis sapida (Nikau palm):   inside courtyard - very hard to see from the street

Coast Banksia in the Richmond

Coast banksia -285 10th Avenue

Coast banksia -285 10th Avenue

This coast banksia (Banksia integrifolia) is one of two at 285 10th Avenue/Clement in the Richmond, and the largest that I know of in the city.   This tree from the protea family is an Australian native, and is *way* too rare in San Francisco.   It has spectacular protea-like pale yellow flowers, and seems to thrive in our climate.  They're very hard to find, but I think the folks at Flora Grubb sourced these two, so if you're interested in buying one, you could try checking in there.  (And if anyone finds a good source for these trees, please let me know.)

Coast banksia - closeup of flowers

Coast banksia - closeup of flowers

Not a great way to prune palms

Not a great way to prune a palm tree :-(    Saw these palms (I think queen palms, or Syagrus romanzoffiana) on Pond Street in the Castro.   Owner no doubt wanted to keep them under the wires, but by removing the terminal bud, it probably means these trees are history.   Too bad, because palms are so easy to transplant (and mature ones are valuable).  

Queen palms on Pond Street

Queen palms on Pond Street