“Snow in Summer”!

Wow - was biking in Noe Valley today and saw this  amazing tree at 118-120 Jersey Street. We call it flaxleaf paperbark, but not hard to see why it’s called “snow in summer” in its native Australia!  Melaleuca linarifolia is the scientific name; it’s one of the most common species in the Melaleuca genus as San Francisco street trees. 


118-120 Jersey Street

Visit to Madeira

Just got back from a week visiting the island of Madeira - a Portuguese island off the coast of Morocco, just north of the Canary Islands.  About 33 degrees latitude, so about the same as San Diego, and it also has a similar climate - coastal, not too hot, but warm enough to appear semitropical.  It used to be a big producer of sugar cane, and you still see sugar cane growing and being harvested in spots around the island, but the bigger crop now is bananas, which have become a big export crop.  And of course vineyards, for the world-famous madeira wine.

African tulip tree in Funchal's old town

African tulip tree in Funchal's old town

Since the climate is similar to coastal California, I was curious to see what trees were used in Funchal (the capital and largest city - really the only city of any size on the island).   We were lucky to be able to stay at a hotel (Quinta da Casa Branca, if you ever go) that was formerly an estate owned by a guy who was obsessed about tropical trees - the entire 4 acre property was covered with spectacular and unusual tropical and semitropical trees, all of them with identifying plaques with scientific name, common name (in Portuguese and English) and location of origin.   OK, so that might have had something to do with our choice of hotel. 

Once we got out into the city, the most spectacular trees were the African tulip trees (Spathodea campanulata) - all of them in bloom (we were there in early April).  The tree is native to tropical Africa, and not all that well suited to our cooler Bay Area climate - not sure I have ever seen one in the Bay Area.   The trees are amazing in bloom - football-size clusters of intense red-orange trumpet-shaped flowers.   

Laurus novocanariensis -  closeup of leaves and flowers

Laurus novocanariensis - closeup of leaves and flowers

We spent one day hiking in out in the country, in the laurel forests of the island (also called laurissilva), a type of forest found in the Atlantic islands of Madeira, the Canaries and the Azores - areas with high humidity and relatively stable, mild temperatures.   This type forest is a remnant of what once covered big parts of Europe before the ice age.  The forest had a species from the Laurus genus (the genus that gives us Laurus nobilis, the sweet bay tree that is used in Mediterranean cooking).  The Madeiran species is Laurus novocanariensis, which is endemic to Madeira and the Canary Islands (meaning it exists only there), and was just recently declared a separate species - it was previously thought to be a variety of Laurus azorica.  Apparently it hasn't been around long enough to develop a common name, so I'll dub it Madeira laurel.  (The hikes in Madeira  are amazing - they typically follow irrigation channels called "levadas" that follow the ridge lines of the mountains and bring water from the wetter northern side of the island to the drier south.)   

Dragon tree - Funchal botanical garden

Dragon tree - Funchal botanical garden

We saw lots of examples of Dracaena draco, the Canary Islands dragon tree.   The tree is native to Madeira (and to the Canary Islands, Cape Verde and western Morocco), but we never saw any in the wild.  They were common in Funchal - perhaps evidence of some local pride in a native tree :-)   Unlike most trees, dragon trees are monocots, related to palms and grasses.  The largest example we saw was in Madeira's botanical garden (a real gem, by the way - not to be missed if you're visiting the island). 




Queensland kauri in Funchal

Queensland kauri in Funchal

One of the big tree-surprises in Funchal was that the city's principal street was Agathis robusta - the Queensland kauri - a tree in the Araucaria family from northern Australia, closely related to Agathis australis, the more famous kauri from New Zealand.   The trees were very erect/fastigiate - perhaps a variety that's been bred for that quality?   I've never seen this species used as a street tree anywhere in the world, but they were very happy in Funchal.  Maybe something to experiment with in similar California conditions?  



And, of course, there were pride of Madeira (Echium candicans).  They weren't quite in season (surprisingly, since they're in full bloom in San Francisco).



Canary Islands dragon tree - rare sight in SF!

I can't remember seeing one of these before in San Francisco.  My husband took me this past weekend to his new favorite dog park (our dog Mather, named after the San Francisco Sierra camp, needed a run).  It's a flat area in Corona Heights Park that you can access either from State Street or from Flint Street.   (If you're approaching from Flint, walk past the tennis courts; if you came up the driveway from State Street, walk past the basketball courts.)  You'll come to a dog park adjacent to some community garden plots. - and in between the two, this Dracaena draco - the common name is Canary Islands dragon tree.  


The plant (not really a tree - it's a monocot with a tree-like growth habit) is native to the Canary Islands, Madeira, Cape Verde and western Morocco.  There's a beautiful example of this tree at the Hotel Coronado in San Diego; the two largest  in California are both in the Santa Barbara area - one at the Sotto il Monte Estate in Montesito, and the second at Mount Calvary Monastery behind the Santa Barbara Mission. in Santa Barbara.   But you don't see them often this far north.  I'll actually be in Madeira in two weeks, and will update this with new photos if I see some!

Spring must be here - Acacia baileyana in bloom

Bailey's acacia - southwest corner of Grattan and Shrader Streets in Cole Valley

Bailey's acacia - southwest corner of Grattan and Shrader Streets in Cole Valley

I've been doing a "Cole Valley Tree of the Month" series for some time in the Cole Valley Facebook group, and when I walked by this tree yesterday at the corner of Grattan and Shrader Streets in Cole Valley, I grabbed my iPhone, shot this picture and made it the "Cole Valley tree of January" - only to be reminded that it happened to be the first of February!   It's just that I associate this tree - Bailey's acacia, or Acacia baileyana, with January blooms.   Bailey's acacia is the first tree to bloom in the spring (after 30 years in San Francisco, it still seems weird to me to call January “spring”), and the brilliant yellow flowers are eye-catching. The tree is native to Australia, where it’s called “Cootamundra wattle”, as it's native to Cootamundra, New South Wales, just west of Canberra.  (The town holds a 'Wattle Time' festival every year when the trees start to bloom.)  

Acacias do put out a good amount of pollen, but the pollen is only mildly allergenic, and it's heavy, which means it exists only in the immediate vicinity of the trees.   You're much more likely to suffer allergies from oaks, elms, pines, and and other wind-pollinated trees - the inconspicuous flowers of those trees don't get noticed, but they put out great quantities of lightweight pollen.   Trees with colorful flowers aren't as likely to cause allergic reactions since the pollen is heavy and sticky (it's designed to stick to insect pollinators, who are attracted by the flower's color).