Victorian Box Blooms Out En Masse


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

Red Flowering Gums at Peak

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.

Monkey puzzle tree in the Presidio

Excited to see this monkey puzzle tree (Araucaria arcaucana) in the Presidio ≈doing well.   It's between two beautiful Queen Anne Victorians on Presidio Boulevard just west of Funston Avenue.  Monkey puzzles are native to Chile and western Argentina; they're related to other trees in the Auraucaria family, such as Norfolk Island Pine, cook pines, and bunya bunyas.  The origin of the name 'monkey puzzle' derives from its early cultivation in England around 1850, when the species was still very rare in gardens and not widely known.  Sir William Moleswort, the owner of a young specimen at Pencarrow garden near Bodmin in Cornwall, was showing it to some friends, when one of them remarked, "It would puzzle a monkey to climb that".  As the species had no popular name, first 'monkey puzzler', then 'monkey puzzle' stuck.  Very glad to see the Presidio planting interesting trees like this.  (I wish they would plant some Wollemi pines (Wollemia nobilis) (hint, hint!)).  

Monkey puzzle - Presideo

February Means Plum Blossoms in SF

 Purple leaf plum, 59 Woodland Avenue

Purple leaf plum, 59 Woodland Avenue

Plum trees (*not* cherries - they come next month!) have been blooming all over the city this past week.   My neighborhood of Parnassus Heights is famous for its plum trees - here are a couple photos from my block of the two most common varieties of plum in San Francisco.   The most common is the purple leaf plum (Prunus cerasifera), and of the many varieties of this species '‘Krauter Vesuvius’ is the one you see most in the City..   Back in the 1990s this was actually the most commonly planted tree in San Francisco, according to Friends of the Urban Forest records.   It's less common now (in part because I think the planting managers at FUF rightly think it's over-planted), but still popular, and after years of popularity, there are hundreds (thousands?) of them around the city.   The tree is gorgeous for 10 days in February, and I'm afraid that period is now just about over.   

 Prunus X blireiana, 54 Woodland Avenue

Prunus X blireiana, 54 Woodland Avenue

The second, and less common, type of plum is Prunus x blireana, or Blireana plum.   The tree has double flowers that look a bit like carnations, with deeper pink than its more common relative, and the blooms last longer.   This tree is a hybrid of Prunus cerasifera 'Atropurpurea' and a double form of Prunus mume.    It was developed in France and introduced in 1906.