Mutant in Bloom

I'm often asked about my favorite tree.  Not the type of tree I like most, but my favorite individual tree in San Francisco. This one, at 1221 Stanyan Street in Cole Valley, is my personal number one - and it's just coming into bloom as I write.

 1221 Stanyan Street

1221 Stanyan Street

For starters, it's 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 this one, at the corner of Stanyan and 17th Streets.  Every May and June, that tree pops with spectacular yellow flowers.

How did the tree end up with yellow flowers? The story goes back to Victor Reiter, a founder of the California Horticultural Society, and San Francisco’s most famous plantsman from the 1940s until his death in 1986 (more about Reiter, and his still-surviving garden behind Stanyan Street, in my book).  In 1940, there was a natural mutation of the species on tiny Motiti Island 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 the City.