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.

Aleppo Pine

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Aleppo pine thinks it is native.

From coastal regions around the Mediterranean Sea, the Aleppo pine, Pinus halepensis, came to be right at home on and near the coast of California. Once established, it can survive quite happily on rainfall. Trees that get too much water can actually get too heavy with foliage, and may eventually get disfigured if limbs break.

Shade under an Aleppo pine is not too dark. The light and sometimes yellowish green foliage is rather wispy, comprised of thin paired needles that are about three inches long. The sculptural trunks almost always lean to one direction or another, and often divide into multiple trunks once they grow out of reach. Bark is light gray with light brown striations.

Young trees can get big rather fast. They tend to be somewhat conical, or at least upright, until they get to be about forty feet tall. Then, they tend to shed lower stems and develop irregular branch structure with rounded tops as their growth rate slows. Only a few old trees in ideal situations slowly get to seventy feet tall. Seedlings sometimes appear where they are not wanted.

Evergreen Trees Have Their Place

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Evergreens are sometimes the best choice.

Deciduous trees that were bare all winter are now foliating and making shade. They sure will be appreciated when the weather gets warmer through summer. They will defoliate next autumn, in time to let warming sunlight through while winter is cool. Their lifestyles are naturally compatible with those of the people who live with them. They really have the system down.

Evergreen trees are good at what they do as well. They obscure unwanted views and provide privacy all year. If given adequate space and located far enough away from the home and neighboring homes, their shade should not be a problem. Like any other feature in the landscape, properly selected and strategically placed evergreens are quite functional.

There are certainly more to evergreen trees than the coniferous (cone-bearing) evergreens like pine, spruce, cypress, cedar and juniper. Any tree that retains foliage throughout the year is evergreen, including camphor, Southern magnolia, carob, California pepper, coast live oak, fern pine, all palms and all eucalypti, just to name a few. There are really too many to list.

Larger modern homes on smaller parcels are a bit more challenging to evergreen trees than more traditional homes that have more space around them. Average fences do not maintain privacy for upstairs windows that are too close to neighboring homes. However, there is less space and sunlight for trees, and additional shade can be a bother for lower windows.

It seems that smaller trees are often the best fit for bigger homes. Sometimes, a large evergreen shrub, like one of the various pittosporums, can do the job of an evergreen tree, but fits better where space is limited. As silly and passe as they seem to be, Italian cypress are narrow enough to fit into tight spots, at least until they get too big.

Contrary to popular belief, most evergreen trees are messier than most deciduous trees. They drop only minor volumes of foliage, but they do so throughout the year. Deciduous plants drop most or all of their foliage within a limited time about autumn. Only those that drop flowers, fruit or both in spring and summer are messier than evergreens.

California Pepper Tree

00101It has been naturalized in Southern California long enough to seem to be native. California pepper, Schinus molle, is actually endemic to Peru and adjacent arid regions of South America as far south as Central Argentina. Furthermore, although its small pink fruits with hard black seeds are sometimes used for culinary purposes, it is actually not related to black pepper, and is mildly toxic.

California pepper is as at home here as the name implies. Established and naturalized trees can survive on annual rainfall. They are better foliated if watered a few times through summer, and do not mind average landscape irrigation if their soil does not stay too damp. When they are not dropping a few leaves, they are dropping floral frass or dried berries, so their mess is considerable.

Old trees can eventually get forty feet wide, and almost as tall. Young trees grow rather aggressively. Growth slows with maturity. The distended and irregularly structured trunks and main limbs are picturesquely gnarly, with handsomely flaky tan bark. Foliage and outer stems are delightfully pendulous. The pinnately compound leaves are finely textured, and about three to six inches in length.

Blue Spruce

91225For a tree that is native to the upper elevations of the Rocky Mountains, blue spruce, Picea pungens, does surprisingly well here. It only wants to be watered a bit through summer to compensate for the lack of rain and humidity in chaparral climates. It does not seem to miss a more pronounced chill through winter. Disease and insect infestation are uncommonly noticeable or damaging.

Garden varieties are impressively variable. Some are like big shrubbery that stays below downstairs eaves. The biggest do not get much taller than thirty feet, and take many years to get so tall. Most but not all are stoutly conical. Color is variable as well, ranging from grayish green to silvery bluish green. The evergreen foliage is very dense. Individual needles are only about an inch long.

Blue spruce demands patience, planning and room to grow. Pruning for containment compromises their naturally appealing conical form. Therefore, even compact cultivars that do not need much space will need enough to mature completely. However, because they grow somewhat slowly, blue spruce may take a few years to actually occupy much of their space, and function as intended.