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).
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.