Azores Trees

Just got back from a week in the Azores - Sao Miguel and Terceira islands.   The Azores are Portuguese islands in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean - 800 miles west of Portugal, and about 2000 miles east of Boston - volcanic islands, with a mild, San Francisco-like climate (coastal, rarely above 80 degrees fahrenheit, and rarely below 45 degrees).  

New Zealand Christmas tree - Ponta Delgada in Sao Miguel Island, Azores

New Zealand Christmas tree - Ponta Delgada in Sao Miguel Island, Azores

It was interesting to see so many introduced trees in the Azores that are popular as ornamentals here in San Francisco.   Metrosideros excelsa (New Zealand Christmas tree) is often used as an ornamental, but also naturalized in the forests of hte islands (which I have never seen here in California).   The New Zealand Christmas tree in the photo above was a huge specimen in Ponta Delgada, the capital city of the Azores - so big that it had supports to hold up its limbs - if you look carefully you'll see the many vertical steel supports.    Araucarias are everywhere as specimen trees -- especially Norfolk Island Pine trees.  (The Norfolk Island Pine in the photo below was a young specimen just outside our hotel window in Angra de Heroismo, the largest city on Terceira Island- the hotel was in an early 1600s stone fort built by the Spanish during a 40 year period when they controlled the islands).   And Pittosporum undulatum (Victorian box) is everywhere as a naturalized tree - to the point where there were forests of the tree - it has become an ecological problem on the islands.

Norfolk Island Pine - Angra de Heroismo on Terceira Island

Norfolk Island Pine - Angra de Heroismo on Terceira Island

There are trees that are native to the Azores - in fact endemic to them (found in nature only there).  It was interesting to see native species that were closely related to trees I recognized, but which had developed into separate species as a result of the physical isolation of the islands.  Laurus azorica, for example, was obviously a close relative of the Grecian bay (Laurus nobilis) that is found on our streets.  

And London planes (Platanus X acerifolia) lining the roads everywhere.   The trees below were in a back road on Terceira island.


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)