General Sherman Tree


The biggest, tallest and oldest trees in the World are all native to California. The biggest trees are the giant redwood, Sequoiadendron giganteum. The tallest trees are the coastal redwood, Sequoia sempervirens. The oldest trees are the bristlecone pines, Pinus longaeva. The biggest and the tallest are two of only three specie of redwood in the World, and except for a few coastal redwood that live barely north of the Oregon border, both are endemic only to California. Most of us know that the coastal redwood is the state tree of California. However, some believe that California is the only state with two state trees, which are the two native specie of redwood.

This gives arborists from California serious bragging rights.

Most of the arborists whom I work with are very familiar with the coastal redwood. Not only is it the most prominent tree in the Santa Cruz Mountains, but it is also a common tree in landscapes of the Santa Clara Valley.

The other two specie are not nearly so common. Neither perform well in landscape situations, and certainly not locally. Even if they did, the giant redwood gets much too bulky to fit into urban landscapes, and the bristlecone pine is a bit too irregular for refined landscapes. Because they both live in somewhat remote regions within California, some very experienced arborists have never seen either of them in the wild. Of course, it is not something we talk about much.

I still have not seen bristlecone pine in the wild. The only specimens I have ever seen were bonsai stock that had not yet been cultivated as bonsai specimens.

In the late 1990s, I had not seen giant redwood in the wild either. I had only seen the unhappy specimens that were planted on the sides of roads between San Jose and nearby towns during the Victorian Period before the urban landscape had become so inhospitable to them. One of my respected colleagues who had seen many of the more interesting trees of California in his travels had not seen them either.

Fortunately, it was nothing that a good old fashioned road trip could not fix. Without much planning at all, we drove out to Sequoia National Park and met with the General Sherman Tree. There was too much snow to get very far, so we did not get similarly acquainted with the General Grant Tree farther up the road. It was one of the most compelling horticultural trips of my lifetime, right up there with going to see the native California fan palm, Washingtonia filifera, outside of Palm Springs, or the Joshua tree, Yucca brevifolia, outside of Palmdale. I know that the picture above is not a good picture of my colleague with the General Sherman Tree. It is from a time when cameras still used film. Getting pictures transferred to a compact disc was merely an option back then. The sepia toned picture below is even older, but it is not mine.00


Carrots Are EVIL!

P80811KHow can anyone eat them? No only do people eat them, but many people enjoy them, and some even consider them to be their favorite vegetable!
Carrots are ridiculously bright orange. They try to make themselves appealingly colorful like summery flowers or oranges. Something that grows underground has no business being that bright orange! About the time that typically bright orange California poppies became available in sickly purple, pale white, orangish red and a few other colors, carrots with the same colors also became available! Coincidence? I think not.
Carrots have that distinctively weird texture. Radishes have that perfect crunch. Beets are firm but cook up so nicely. All of the various root vegetables have the perfect texture that works for them; except for carrots. They try to mimic radishes, but are not as succulent and crisp. They are a bit more firm like turnips, but they can not get that technique down either. They are just nasty!
Carrots have that distinctive flavor . . . or unflavor. What does it taste like? No one can give a straight answer. Carrots can seem to taste mildly sweet, but it is all deception! People just say that about carrots because they do not taste like anything else!
Carrots have that distinctive evil shape. They are long drawn out roots that reach straight for Hell, from whence they came! If it were such a great shape other root vegetables would use it.
Carrots grow underground where we can not see what they are up to. What are they doing down there? That region of the garden below the surface of the soil should be reserved exclusively for turnips, beets, potatoes, onions, yams and any other subterranean vegetables that are actually good for something. Why waste space on evil carrots?

Six on Saturday: Cacti

Cacti was the topic for my gardening column less than two weeks ago. ( ) Both space and illustrations are limited in the column though. Only a picture of a prickly pear was posted with that main article. The other part of that article, which is a brief description and a picture of white epiphyllum, was posted the next day. ( ) Since then, I have been wanting to get a picture of one of the small but delightful orange flowers of a prickly pear in the private collection of one of my colleagues. Now that I got that picture, I really did not know what to do with it. I got two other pictures of the fruit and stems of the same prickly pear, and three more pictures of other cacti in the same collection so that I could post them here. Instead of saving the best picture for last, the prickly pear flower is posted first just because it is that cool.

1. Prickly pear flower should bloom during the day. They should not be nocturnal. I can not be certain because I am not familiar with this particular species. What I do know is that the flowers have been open early in the morning, and then closed shortly after exposed to sunlight, almost like those of a nocturnal epiphyllum. It took me a while to get this picture of this single peachy orange flower.P80811

2. Prickly pear fruit should ripen right after bloom, but most fall off of this plant while still green. It might be because the plant is potted and watered regularly. Those that ripen are only about two inches long, and quite pithy without much flavor. They would probably be bigger, more abundant and better flavored if the plant could grow in the ground.P80811+

3. Prickly pear pad is not as prickly as those that I got a picture of for the previous article about cacti. I do not know how their flavor is because I have not tried them. This is a small plant that can not spare many pads. Even if there were a few to spare, they are not very big, even when mature. The probably would not taste very goo either, since they take so long to mature in the pot.P80811++

4. Cereus cactus really is nocturnal; cereusly! It produces huge white flowers that are about as big as those of the white epiphyllum that was featured earlier. The flowers do not open until after sundown, and may wait until late at night. While open, they are powerfully fragrant. The fragrance seems to ‘turn on’ immediately when the flower open, and ‘turn off’ as soon as the flowers close before dawn.P80811+++

5. Rat tail cactus, like epiphyllum, is epiphytic, which means that it grows where debris collects in crotches of limbs in big trees. If they grown on the ground, they just sprawl about and maybe form low mounds. This is not an exemplary specimen, although it bloomed well earlier, with reddish orange flowers that are significantly smaller than those of the epiphyllum, and also a bit smaller than those of the prickly pear.P80811++++

6. Epiphyllum is a weird epiphytic cactus. This particular cultivar is even weirder than most. Cacti photosynthesize with their green stems, while using what should be leaves as spines. This cultivar does not seem to be satisfied with that technique, so is outfitted with these weird leafy appendages on its flat green stems, as if it really wants leaves like other plant have.P80811+++++

This is the link for Six on Saturday, for anyone else who would like to participate:

Horridculture – Bullwinkle

P80808This rant may not go in the direction you expect it to. The pictures suggest that this would be about the bad vegetation management crews who severely disfigure trees that get too close to utility cables. It is not.
This is about horticultural ‘professionals’ who plant trees where they will encroach into utility cables, with no regard to what might eventually be done to them in order to keep electrical service reliable and safe. The native oak in these pictures likely grew from seed, so unless someone knows the squirrel who buried the acorn, there is no one to blame. Many of us who enjoy home gardening are sometimes not aware of how tall and wide particular trees can get when we plant them. Horticultural ‘professionals’ should know better! That is what they charge so much money for when they design a landscape.
Palm trees are the worst! They grow only upward, with only a single terminal bud. Once that terminal bud encroaches into a utility easement, there is no option to prune back to another branch that might direct growth around the easement. ‘Pruning’ the only terminal bud back kills the entire tree. Yet, some landscape ‘designers’ continue to prescribe the all too trendy queen palm for the backsides of urban landscapes, even if utility cables are back there like they so typically are.
The oak in these pictures got a Bullwinkle cut, with big ‘antlers’ reaching upward and to the left and right of cables that are directly above. The lower picture sort of shows a ‘step back’ cut into the top for clearance from other perpendicular cables that pass over that edge rather than directly above. The tree is in surprisingly good condition, and gets pruned as properly as possible for the difficult circumstances.P80808+This brief article from a few days ago discusses a few more details about easements.


P80805When a plant that should be compact or shrubby gets too lanky with exposed lower stems, it is described as ‘leggy’. We do not hear much about plants that develop ‘knees’. Perhaps that is because there is only one species that does so. That one species happens to be very rare here. If there are other specie that develop knees, I do not know what they are.

‘Knees’ are weird appendages that grow upward like stalagmites from the roots of bald cypress Taxodium distichum, particularly where the trees grow wild in swampy conditions. Knees can get quite tall. One of our professors used to tell us that they could do some serious damage to a canoe. Perhaps knees are why bald cypress is locally unpopular in landscapes.

However, I happened to notice that bald cypress is a common street tree in downtown Oklahoma City. Just like most other street trees, they are installed into small tree wells, but otherwise surrounded by pavement. They were remarkably healthy and well structured specimens that were too young to have damaged the pavement. Yet, I could not help but wonder what they will do as they mature. Even before the trunks grow as big around as the small tree wells that they are in, what would happen if knees develop?

There happens to be not one, but two bald cypress at work. The smaller is alongside a small stream. The larger is adjacent to a lawn where the soil is seemingly dry on the surface, but quite soggy just below the surface. This larger specimen is already developing distended burls that seem to be rudimentary knees. Although there is no pavement to break, the tree happens to be shading a picnic area where knees, if they develop, would be quite an obtrusive problem.P80805+


P80804KHow Italian! Red, white and green! A coastal redwood with a white albino sport (mutant growth) amongst otherwise deep green foliage Actually, it is very Californian. Coastal redwood is endemic to California with only a a few north of the border on the extreme southern coast of Oregon.
Such sports are quite rare. Back in the late 1970s, an article in World Magazine mentioned that only five of these albino ‘trees’ where known to exist. There were actually more, even back then, but others were not documented. (They were WithOut Papers – WOP.) The specimen in the picture is at a home that is about a century old, so it was known about for a very long time, although not documented.
Albino foliage is a lethal mutation. It lacks chlorophyll, so can not sustain itself. It only survives because it originates as basal watersprouts that remain attached to the original green trees that produce and then sustain it. Attempt to graft albino grown onto other green trees has been unsuccessful.
Albino growth looks pretty in pictures, and is provides striking (although very perishable) cut foliage that is even more striking with black flowers, but does not make such a nice tree. It stays shrubby at the base of the originating tree, without developing distinct trunks or substantial branches. It does not shed old foliage as efficiently as green growth does, so always looks grungy. To make matters worse, albino foliage is more sensitive to frost, so gets killed back every few years or so, and then is slow to shed the dead foliage and stems.
Coastal redwood is one of the most fascinating trees in the World. It is the tallest, and among the biggest and oldest. It is no wonder that it is the state tree of California.

Six on Saturday: Bits and Pieces II


It has been a while since I posted a sequel to anything like I used to do so commonly. I am only doing it now because I do not have six pictures that fit a particular theme. There are not six different camellias or six different rhododendrons blooming at the same time. There is not a new landscape with six different newly installed plants to show off. Instead, I merely found a few amusing or silly pictures from work for this week. I sort of like #5 because it is interesting even to those of us who are familiar with it. I will actually elaborate a bit more on that later at noon.

I know these Six on Saturday posts do not fit with my other articles, but hey are fun for those us who participate. You can see other Six on Saturday posts by other writers at the link at the bottom of the page. You might even want to give it a try and participate yourself.

1. This might look like a signs at the Generic Aroboretum, or the Arboretum for the Horticulturally Disinterested, but the signs really refer to buildings that are named after trees. Almost all of the buildings in the neighborhood are names after flora of some sort.P80804

2. Woodpecker pantries are often constructed in old coastal redwood trees with soft bark. It seems silly to me; but it must be effective. Otherwise, woodpeckers would not put so much effort into stocking them. Woodpeckers deposit single acorns into the holes bored into the bark, in order to store the acorns for later. Some of these holes are very old, so have stored several acorns over several years. At lest one woodpecker guards the pantry from squirrels while the other woodpeckers are out and about collecting acorns. Such pantries are typically in trees that are isolated from others, so that squirrels can not enter from other trees, and then raid the pantry from above. The only access to the squirrels is from the ground. This panty does not seem to be active at the moment, but discarded acorn shells at the base of the tree indicate the it was active in recent history.P80804+.JPG

3. Coastal redwood trees are very efficient at regenerating from stumps of harvested trees. This tan oak wanted to give it a try too. It did not really regenerate from the stump of course, but merely grew from an acorn in the detritus that collected on top of the stump, and rooted into the rotted wood. The fractures visible at the bottom of the stump are caused by expanding tan oak roots.P80804++

4. Which of these things does not belong here? Do you remember that from Sesame Street? Blue hydrangeas are not common here, although we have quite a few that are fertilized to be blue. I thought that these looked silly together because they are so similar in color.P80804+++

5. Albino coastal redwoods are so fascinating. The white foliage can not survive without chlorophyll, so must remain attached to the original green tree that produced the white mutant growth. This takes a bit of explanation, so I will write a bit more about this about noon.P80804++++

6. Finally, we have two silly looking tiny weds that grew in a crack in the big rock that I wrote about earlier in Rock Concert. They are not much to look at, but this looks like one of those artistic pictures that other writers take.P80804+++++

This is the link for Six on Saturday, for anyone else who would like to participate:

Horridculture – Neapolitan

P80801Baldness was not yet cool while Brent and I were studying horticulture at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo back in the late 1980s. Nor were hairpieces yet tacky. Consequently, some middle aged men work toupees. As these men aged and grayed, their formerly well matched topees did not.

Hedges of Pittosporum tobira ‘Variegata’ are notorious for developing green sports (unvariegated mutant growth). Because gardeners do not prune these sports out, they become prominent green blotches in otherwise nicely variegated hedges. Pruning large blotches out would only leave big bald spots. That is why such hedges, as well as similarly blotched hedges of other variegated plants, are known as ‘bad toupee’ hedges.

‘Neapolitan’ hedges are a variant of that concept. They are not composed of formerly identical plants that later challenged their respective identities. ‘Neapolitan’ hedges are actually composed of different plant material that has been shorn together. They sometimes develop as feral plants grow up and into formerly uniform hedges. They are often composed of what should have been distinct plants within a well designed landscape, that were merely shorn collectively by ‘gardeners’ who simply did not care.

This hedge in a median of a driveway into a mall in town is a classic example of the latter. The landscape designer likely intended the deep green Burford holly, Ilex cornuta, to develop naturally as dense and low mounds between the more upright variegated holly olive, Osmanthus heterophyllus ‘Variegatus’. Apparently, it is too much to expect a well paid ‘gardener’ to figure that out. Fortunately, this particular ‘Neapolitan’ hedge happens to look good in this particular application, but would look better if the ‘gardener’ would replace the variegated holly olive that has been missing for years from the gap between two Burford hollies to the left.


P80729Coppiced trees and shrubs are just like pollarded trees, but without the trunk and main limbs. Instead of getting cut back to the same distended knuckles at the ends of disproportionately stout limbs, they get cut back to the same stump just above grade over winter. Some get coppiced annually. Others get coppiced only when they get too big. The coppiced California sycamore in this picture may never get coppiced again.
It was not intentionally coppiced. It had merely been cut down. The trunk was in the middle of where this thicket of secondary growth is now, but all of the canopy was over the adjacent parking lot from which the picture was taken. The tree was so severely and asymmetrically disfigured and leaning that it was unsightly and unmanageable. It really looked ridiculous. Removing the tree and replacing it with a new one would have been more practical than attempting to repair the disfigurement with corrective pruning over many years. Besides, such severe pruning to repair the disfigurement would have caused other disfigurement, and in the end, the tree would still be leaning.
Others California sycamores nearby had been cut down years ago because they were crowded. As the remaining trees continued to grow, those that had been cut down regenerated from their stumps with multiple trunks, and are now getting almost as tall as the others that were not cut down. Some of their smaller trunks will get cut down next winter, leaving them with single, double or triple trunks, but they will not be cut down completely as they were before. Instead, they will be allowed to adapt to their crowded conditions naturally. They are all becoming such appealing trees.
The coppiced but technically cut down California sycamore in the picture will be given the same sort of second chance. While bare in winter, the secondary growth will be pruned to leave only one, two or three trunks to hopefully develop into a new tree on the same spot.

Corndog Orchard

P80728KUrban sprawl replaced the formerly vast orchards of the Santa Clara Valley a long time ago. Nowadays, it is difficult to imagine that they were ever here. Apricots, prunes, cherries, almonds, walnuts and all that the region was once famous for are all now rare commodities.
Only a few minor corndog orchards remain. They survive only because they are not actual orchards that are grown on land that is useful for something else, but instead grow wild on otherwise useless marshland and along the few creeks that flow through the region. Some marshland that could not be converted into usable space was developed into parks, and within many such parks, the remaining marshlands are protected as native habitat.
Vasona Lake County Park and the small Vasona Lake within were once a large marshy area that sustained what was probably the biggest corndog orchard within the Santa Clara Valley. It is at the transition where the Los Gatos Creek flows swiftly from the slopes of the Santa Cruz Mountains, and then slows as it reaches its flat alluvial plain within the Santa Clara Valley. Although not nearly as abundant as they were prior to development, corndogs still inhabit the banks of Los Gatos Creek and Vasona Lake. We know them as cattails.
Because they are a native species that had historically been more common locally than anywhere else nearby, and because of their common name that is coincidentally associated with cats, cattails had been nominated to be the official Town Flower of Los Gatos (which is Spanish for The Cats). There are not many natives that would be as appropriate, and the only comparably culturally significant flowers would be those of the old fruit orchards, such as apricot blossoms. No other flower is both native and so culturally significant.