Fern Pine

Narrow leaves resemble pine needles.

It is neither a fern nor a pine. Fern pine, Podocarpus gracilior, can be a tree taller than fifty feet, and half as broad, but is often a shorn shrub or hedge that can be kept less than eight feet tall. Stems are limber enough while  young to be espaliered. The finely textured evergreen foliage is somewhat yellowish out in full sun, and darker green in partial shade. Individual leaves are as long as two and a half inches, and less than a quarter inch wide, and hang almost like fat pine needles. Some but not all mature trees can drop a bit of messy fruit with hard pits that are a bit larger than those of cherries. Bark gets distinctively blotched as it ages. The deep roots can be remarkably complaisant with concrete. Outer growth can get damaged by the harshest frosts every few winters or so, or roasted by hot dry heat every few summers.

Canary Island Pine

Canary Island pine displays fluffy foliage.

For spacious landscapes, Canary Island pine, Pinus canariensis, became more common than Monterey pine through the 1970s. New trees became less popular as old trees demonstrated how big they get! However, as seemingly docile live Christmas trees, they still often sneak into gardens that are not big enough for them. Their short blue juvenile needles suggest that they stay small.

They instead get quite tall. Old trees can get more than a hundred feet tall, even if their canopy gets no wider than twenty feet. Their rich brown bark is distinctively and coarsely textured. Their thin and long needles are somewhat pendulous, with a rather fluffy appearance. They are in bundles of three. Although individual trees are not very broad, their shade can get too dark for other plants.

Canary Island pine is a stately tree, but is not easy to accommodate. It produces copious foliar debris that can shade out lawn and ground cover, and accumulate on shrubbery. In unrefined areas, without other plants, foliar debris suppresses weeds. However, too much can be combustible. Such grand and resilient trees suit parks, and are ideal for freeway embankments and interchanges.

Evergreens Make A Mess Too

Big evergreen trees make big messes.

Nature is messy. It is that simple. Leaves, flowers, fruits and stems regularly fall from vegetation onto the ground. Animals contribute their mess too. Insects and microorganisms seem to eliminate most of the mess. In reality, they merely accelerate the process of recycling the mess back into more mess. Decomposing organic matter sustains viable vegetation as it perpetuates the process.

Natural mess serves many other purposes as well. It really is an important component of ecology. It retains moisture and insulates the soil. Many plants drop foliage that inhibits the germination of competing plants. Many merely smother competing plants with their mess. Several, particularly locally, produce combustible debris to incinerate their competition in the next convenient forest fire!

Obviously, the sort of mess that is so beneficial in nature is not so desirable in home gardens. Even if weed suppression and moisture retention are appealing, combustibility is not! Neither is any mess that vegetation deposits onto hardscapes, roofs or lawns. Such mess becomes more apparent as deciduous trees defoliate this time of year. Most produced no other mess since last year.

As messy as deciduous trees are, they are generally no messier than evergreen trees. They just happen to defoliate within a very limited season, rather than throughout the year. Some evergreen trees shed more in a particular season, typically as new foliage replaces the old. Otherwise, they shed slowly and persistently throughout the year. The mess seems like less, but is just prolonged.

Both evergreen and deciduous trees serve their respective purposes. Evergreen trees obscure unwanted scenery all year. Deciduous trees provide cooling shade for summer, and allow warming sunlight through for winter. The misconception that deciduous trees are necessarily messier should not exclude them from home gardens. Deciduous trees are often the most appropriate options.

Every species and cultivar of tree is unique. Many deciduous trees actually are messier than some evergreen trees. However, most are not.

Incense Cedar

Incense cedar produces delightfully aromatic wood.

Nowadays, the delightfully aromatic foliage is familiar primarily in garlands at Christmas time. Most of the foliage of old trees is too high up for direct contact. Young trees with low foliage are rare. Incense cedar, Calocedrus decurrens, is unfortunately not as popular as it was a century ago. At that time, it was as utilitarian as it was appealing for spacious but minimally irrigated landscapes.

Incense cedar wood made good shingles and laminate for closets and cedar chests. The wood is aromatic enough to repel moths from woolens and furs, which were still popular then. It was less expensive to import than Eastern red cedar. It grows wild relatively nearby, in the Sierra Nevada and Cascade Mountains. Incense cedar fence posts might resist decay as well as redwood posts.

If the wild, where they compete with other trees for sunlight, old trees can get almost two hundred feet tall. However, well exposed old trees in Victorian gardens are less than half as tall after more than a century. Their canopies are generally conical. Large limbs can curve upward like extra trunks. Flat foliar sprays resemble those of arborvitae. The deeply furrowed bark is cinnamon brown.

Carob

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John the Baptist really knows carob.

The locusts that John the Baptist ate out in the desert were not grasshoppers. They were the nutritious locust pods of the carob tree, Ceratonia siliqua. Their familiar sweet cocoa flavor was probably fine for a while, but the starchy texture must have gotten dreadfully monotonous. After all these centuries, carob is still grown for food and as a shade tree.

It takes a very long time for a carob tree to get taller than forty feet. Most are less than thirty feet tall, and not quite as broad. Their rounded canopies are very dense. The stout trunk and limbs are quite sculptural, with variably but handsomely textured bark. The five or six inch long evergreen leaves are pinnately compound, with very glossy round leaflets.

Unfortunately, the big chocolaty pods are abundant enough to be messy if not harvested. Trees that do not produce pods bloom in autumn with seriously stinky male flowers that attract flies for pollination. Some trees are both male and female, so are both messy and stinky. Because carob trees are grown from seed, their gender can not be predicted.

Since they are from the drier regions around the Mediterranean Sea, carob trees really do not crave for much water once they have dispersed their roots. They grow somewhat faster if watered generously a few times through summer, but will survive without it. Too much water will cause buttressed roots that will break nearby concrete.

Camphor Tree

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Camphor trees have stout branch structure.

The best camphor trees, Cinnamomum camphora, are in parks and other spacious landscapes. Such trees have sufficient room for their broad canopies. Although they do not grow rapidly, they eventually get quite large, and perhaps too massive for confined urban gardens. Some of the older local trees are nearly fifty feet tall, and nearly as broad. They have potential to get much bigger.

Camphor trees excel as shade trees. Their light green or perhaps yellowish evergreen foliage is quite dense. Shade of groups of trees or large trees with low canopies inhibits the growth of lawn grass. Also, roots are likely to eventually elevate lawn or other features that are close to the trunks. Foliar canopies are billowy, but can be lopsided, especially in windy or partly shaded situations.

Trunks and main limbs of camphor trees are rather stout, and can be rather sculptural. Trees should be pruned for clearance while young. Otherwise, obtrusively low limbs can become prominent components of the canopies. The tan bark is distinctively checkered. It darkens handsomely with rain. All parts of camphor tree are quite aromatic. Frass from spring bloom can be slightly messy.

Shade Trees Adapt To Urbanism

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Traditional shade trees get quite large.

Modern urban home gardens are shadier and more confined than older suburban home gardens originally were. Modern homes are both taller and closer together on smaller parcels. Fences are also taller to compensate for the minimal proximity of adjacent homes. Less sunlight reaches the ground. There is not as much space available for shade trees. Nor is there as much use for them.

Huddled modern homes are simply not as exposed to sunlight as older suburban homes were. Sunlight is more of an asset than a liability. Walls, ceilings and windows are so thoroughly insulated that shade is less important. Solar arrays up on roofs must remain exposed to sunlight. Smaller and denser trees are more important for obscuring views of adjacent homes, rather than for shade.

Shade trees are still useful for rural and suburban homes. Shade helps to keep older and less energy efficient homes cooler through warmer summer weather. If strategically situated to the south, west or southwest, they shade homes during the warmest time of day. Well proportioned trees do not darken too much of their gardens. Deciduous trees allow warming sunlight in through winter.

The popularity of modern urban homes is directly proportionate to the popularity of small evergreen trees. Such trees fit into smaller garden spaces, and permanently obscure unwanted scenery. Big deciduous shade trees that are practical for larger garden spaces become obtrusive in confined spaces. Defoliation in winter reveals unwanted views, and deprives the landscape of privacy.

Some of the more practical of small evergreen trees are actually large shrubbery. English laurel, Carolina cherry, photinia, hopseed bush and various pittosporums can get high enough to obscure neighboring windows. All are conducive to pruning if they get too tall. If staked on single straight trunks, or pruned to expose a few sculptural trunks, they do not occupy much space at ground level.

Tristania laurina, and some melaleucas are naturally small to midsized evergreen shade trees. Some species of Podocarpus can be pruned as midsized trees.

California Bay

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California bay is not Grecian bay.

Because of the common name, California bay, Umbellularia californica, sometimes substitutes for Grecian bay. The two are actually very different. Grecian bay is a culinary herb that grows as a compact tree. California bay has a distinctively pungent flavor that is objectionably strong for most culinary applications. It grows fast to thirty feet tall, and gets a hundred feet tall in shady forests.

Because it gets so big and messy, California bay is not so popular for planting into home gardens. However, because it is native, it sometimes self sows into landscapes. Some mature trees live within gardens that developed around them. California bay can work well in spacious landscapes, with plants that do not mind its shade and leaf litter. Annuals and seedlings dislike the leaf litter.

Old forest trees make the impression than California bay typically develops an awkward and lanky form. That is only because they do what they must to compete for sunlight. Well exposed trees, although lofty as they mature, are more densely structured. Some have a few big trunks, with checked gray bark. Old trees are likely to develop distended basal burl growth known as a lignotuber.

Steven Michael Ralls Memorial Tree

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Steven Michael Ralls Memorial Tree is mostly camouflaged by the surrounding forest.

Steven Michael Ralls got his Memorial Tree this morning, three years after he passed away on May 2, 2017. The circumstances that coincided for this event were impossible to ignore. Just like the other Memorial Tree, which was installed to replace an oak that was missing from a parking lot island, the Steven Michael Ralls Memorial Tree also has a practical application.

The small tree is a young Monterey Cypress, Cupressus macrocarpa, that needed to be removed from one landscape, and was waiting in the recovery nursery to be installed into another. Of course, a Monterey cypress in no easy tree to accommodate. It is too big and too dark to be compatible with most of the landscapes into which we add smaller and mostly deciduous trees.

However, it happens to be ideal for obscuring undesirable scenery, just like a row of five Arizona cypress, Cupressus arizonica, will be expected to do when installed along a busy roadway. Furthermore, it just happens to grow bigger faster than Arizona cypress, so is even better for the low end of the row where a bigger tree is preferred. The row really needs six trees anyway.

The location of the tree just happens to be ideal as well. With all Arizona cypress spaced evenly along the roadway, and the Steven Michael Ralls Memorial Tree strategically situated around the lower corner of the fence, it is located precisely where Steven Michael Ralls camped while homeless late in 2012. I could not have selected a more appropriate location if I had planned it.

The new tree will need to be watered by bucket occasionally through summer, but will need no intervention after the rain starts next autumn. It knows what it needs to do to get established and become an evergreen asset to the forest.

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It was easier to see before it was planted.

silver dollar gum

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There are actually a few different eucalypti known as silver dollar gum. The most familiar and largest is Eucalyptus polyanthemos. Mature trees that were popularly planted through the 1960s are about forty or fifty feet tall. Some stay smaller. A few that compete with taller trees are more than sixty feet tall. Trunks and limbs are somewhat sculptural, with fibrous bark.

Grayish foliage on limber stems forms a billowy and rounded canopy that blows softly in the breeze. Juvenile leaves are nearly circular, and more silvery gray than adult foliage is, like silver dollars. Ovate adult leaves are about three inches long and half as wide. Tiny flowers with prominent white stamens bloom amongst the adult foliage in spring and summer.

Smaller trees are often pruned aggressively or pollarded so that they continually produce the more desirable juvenile foliage without bloom. The problem with this technique is that it must be repeated every few years or even annually. Otherwise, vigorous secondary growth can get too heavy and break away.