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.
Among the more than seven hundred species of Eucalyptus, nomenclature gets confusing. It certainly does not help that some species have multiple common names. Eucalyptus cinerea is a rather distinctive species with at least two equally distinctive common names. The problem with these names is that, although sensible in Australian, they are not so sensible to Californians.
‘Mealy stringybark’ is a name that must describe something of the physical characteristics of the species. The bark is rather stringy, but no more stringy than that of so many other species. The glaucous foliage might be described as mealy in Australian English. ‘Argyle apple’ is a weirder name. Again, it must make sense in Australian culture. I just know it as ‘silver dollar tree’.
A few years ago, I acquired a severely disfigured and overgrown #5 (5 gallon) specimen of silver dollar tree, along with three comparable specimens of dwarf blue gum, Eucalyptus globulus ‘Compacta’. They were about to be discarded from the nursery where I found them. They got canned into #15 cans, and coppiced back to their distended lignotubers. All regenerated nicely.
Two of the blue gums found appropriate homes. One remains here, and was coppiced again last year. The silver dollar tree stayed late too, but happened to get planted into a landscape last autumn. It is developing into such an appealing tree that one would not guess that it had experienced such neglect and subsequent trauma. The exemplary silvery gray foliage is so healthy.
As it regenerated after getting coppiced, the strongest of the new stems was bound to a stake to form a single straight trunk. All smaller basal stems were pruned away after the first season. The little tree cooperated through the process, and now lives happily ever after. I still do not know its name.
Rhody said, “Cornus florida bark is rough.” He likely intended to say, “Dog would bark, ‘ruff!’.”
This is not about Rhody though. It is about these six pictures of bark of some of the more significant trees that I work with. All are native here. Only the sycamore was installed intentionally into a landscape. All of the others grew wild. There are so many interesting trees here that it was not easy to limit these pictures to just six. I actually took more pictures that were omitted.
Furthermore, a picture of Rhody is not included.
1. Platanus racemosa – California sycamore is bigger and bolder than other American sycamore. Trunks of mature trees are massive and gnarled, with this distinctively blotchy gray bark.
2. Pinus ponderosa – Ponderosa pine is the grandest of pines. The massive trunks seem to be comparable to those of Douglas fir. Bark often flakes in bits that resemble jigsaw puzzle pieces.
3. Quercus agrifolia – Coast live oak is second only to valley oak in regard to grandeur. Unlike valley oak, it is evergreen. Smooth gray young bark eventually becomes darker and furrowed.
4. Pseudotsuga menziesii – Douglas fir is the majestic State Tree of Oregon, and a main timber crop there. Locally, it mixes with various ecosystems. Corky bark is rather finely furrowed.
5. Acer macrophyllum – Bigleaf maple is the most imposing maple of the West. As the name implies, the leaves are bigger than those of any other maple. Bark gets sort of checked with age.
6. Sequoia sempervirens – Coastal redwood is the grandest of all, and it happens to be the tallest tree in the World. Also, it is the state tree of California. The ruddy bark is distinctly fibrous.
This is the link for Six on Saturday, for anyone else who would like to participate:
No one wants to cut down this little blue spruce. What is worse is that no one wants anyone else to cut it down either. We all know it is ugly. We all know that it can not be salvaged. We all know that it really should relinquish its space to the healthy and well structured coast live oak next to it, in the lower left of the picture. Yet, it remains.
It was planted amongst a herd of gold junipers in about 1980 or 1981, shortly after the construction of the adjacent buildings. An abandoned irrigation system indicates that it was likely irrigated for some time afterward, although it is impossible to know for how long. Otherwise, it and the junipers were completely ignored for the last four decades.
When the vegetable garden was installed nearby, brambles, weeds and trash that had been accumulating for forty years was removed from the area. A few of the most decrepit junipers that were not worth salvaging were removed too. The young and feral coast live oak that grew next to the spruce should have been removed as well, but is actually in very good condition.
Furthermore, the coast live oak is a better tree for the particular application. It is native, so does not mind neglect. The spruce was never really happy there, which is why it is so puny and disfigured now, with the lower two thirds of the trunk bare of limbs and foliage. Obviously, the spruce should be removed so that the oak can continue to develop as it should.
We just like the spruce too much to remove it directly. Even though it would look silly if the bare trunk were exposed by the removal of the oak, the bit of foliage on top is so pretty and blue and familiar. I mean, it looks like we have a spruce in the yard; and everyone likes a spruce!
The plan is to subordinate it to the oak. As the oak grows upward and outward, the lower limbs of the spruce will be pruned away to maintain clearance. Eventually, the spruce will look so silly that the landscape would look better without it, and we will not mind cutting it down so much. It will be unpleasant, but it will be better than interfering with the development of the oak.
What does this mean? Is it ‘111’ deprived of the lower serifs? Is it ‘777’ with abbreviated arms? . . . ‘TTT’ lacking right arms? . . . ‘LLL’ with abbreviated legs? Is it pointing toward something important? Is a hieroglyph from an ancient language . . . or a language that has yet to be invented?! Is it like a miniature crop circle pattern cut into wood by Sasquatch or extraterrestrials?!
The arborist who left it here after cutting down the deceased ponderosa pine that formerly stood where this large stump remains might be amused to read that I contemplated it so intently. Actually, I did not really contemplate it so much. I only wrote about it as if I did because it is amusing to do so. I have no idea what this hieroglyph represents. I know that it is not important.
I have worked with enough respectable arborists to know that some of them prefer to leave their distinctive marks on the stumps of some of the impressively large trees that they cut down. In many of the suburban regions in which I work, most of such stumps get ground out shortly afterward. In the forested rural area here, such stumps remain until they rot and disintegrate.
On rare occasion, I encounter a familiar hieroglyph or the initials of a respected colleague. Now that we are as old as we are, familiar hieroglyphs are increasingly rare. Arboriculture is for the young. I sometime wonder about those who leave unfamiliar hieroglyphs. To me, the continuation of the tradition seems to indicate that they enjoy their work as much as my colleagues did.
That is important in horticultural industries. There are few in society who understand the appeal. We do what we do because it is what we enjoy.
Fung Lum was an architecturally imposing Chinese restaurant in Campbell years ago. It was more famous for the facade of the building than for the food. Although the food was purportedly excellent, not everyone ate there. Everyone in town knew the building though. It was prominently situated right on Bascom Avenue, at a time when the region was still somewhat suburban.
The meticulously pruned and groomed landscape in the minimal space between the ornate facade and sidewalk was mostly rather low so that it did not obscure the architecture. The tallest features were strategically situated to be unobtrusive. Except for only a few of what seemed to be big, sprawling but low profile Japanese maples, there were no other significant maple trees.
‘Fung Lum’ means ‘maple grove’. Commercials on the radio said so. When I was a kid, I therefore expected to see at least a few maples that grew as trees rather than low sprawling mounds in the associated landscape. I figured that the maple grove must be out back where the parking lot was. I sort of wondered if their maples were Chinese, and what Chinese maples were like.
I probably should have been content in believing that the mix of holly oaks, flowering pears and other common trees in the neighborhood were maples. No one else noticed a discrepancy. For all I know, the name referred to a maple grove in China. Maybe the Japanese maples out in front were the grove. They could have been Chinese. Maybe I put way too much though into this.
Now, I actually work with what is purported to be some sort of Chinese maple, perhaps Acer robustum. It really does resemble a Japanese maple. It produces the foliage that can be seen to the right in the last (sixth) picturethat I posted early this morning. If it really is a Chinese maple, I would not be surprised if cultivars of this species were what lived in front of Fung Lum.
Horticulture is not all flowery. It includes arboriculture, which is the horticulture of trees. As both a horticulturist and arborist, I get t0 work with it all. Not only do I work with arboriculture, but I get to work part of the time in forests of coastal redwoods, which are the tallest trees in the World. Compared to these redwoods, Douglas firs are rather average.
1. At about noon on May 7, this big Douglas fir fell unexpectedly. Since it was not cut down intentionally, no one actually yelled “Timber!”. This picture is recycled from a post from May 10.
2. This is what it looks like now. Even though a bay tree fell on top of the Douglas fir and bridge after the picture above was taken, damage was minimal. Parts of the banister were replaced.
3. The Douglas fir was less than eighty years old. It started growing here in the early 1940s. My grandparents might have met it when it was a baby. By the way, I did not count all the rings.
4. The carcass of the Douglas fir is now more than twenty feet below. The light brown chips to the upper left are from the top of the tree that needed to be cleared from an adjacent roadway.
5. This unfortunate maple really was an exemplary young specimen before it got clobbered by the big Douglas fir and bay tree. Not only are the limbs stripped off, but the trunk is fractured.
6. The third trunk from the left is what remains of the bay tree that was leaning on the Douglas fir, and then fell on top of it. The top limb extending to the right is now about to break too.
This is the link for Six on Saturday, for anyone else who would like to participate:
There are several oaks, especially natives, that do not need much more water than they get from rain. Pin oak, Quercus palustris, is not one of them. It is naturally endemic to areas that are damp or swampy for part of the year. It is more tolerant than others are to lawn irrigation, but is also more sensitive to drought.
Compared to other oaks, pin oak grows fast while young. It can get two stories tall in about ten years. Then, it takes more than twice as long to double in size. Old trees do not get much more than fifty feet tall, with trunks nearly three feet wide.
The deciduous foliage turns as brown as a grocery bag in autumn, and may linger late into winter, or until it gets replaced by new foliage in spring. The distinctively deeply lobed leaves are about two to five inches long, and about two thirds as wide. Each leaf has five or seven lobes. Each lobe has five to seven teeth.
There really is no such thing as a perfect tree. Some are not quite as messy as others. Some have better structural integrity than others. Some have gentle roots; and some stay proportionate to tight spots. However, without exception, all trees grow, drop leaves, and disperse roots.
This is an important consideration when selecting any tree, and especially when selecting a street tree for the narrow space between the curb and the sidewalk (which is commonly known as a park strip). Even where there is no sidewalk, or where the sidewalk is at the curb, most of the obstacles are the same.
Street trees should have reasonably complaisant roots that should not be likely to damage curbs, sidewalks or roadways, at least for several years. They should naturally develop reasonably high branches. They will need to be pruned higher than trucks that may park at the curb. Street trees must also tolerate harsh exposure.
Wider park strips can of course accommodate larger trees. Those that are only two feet wide or narrower are probably not wide enough for any tree larger than photinia, purple-leaf plum or English hawthorn, which are difficult to prune for clearance over roadways and sidewalks.
Messy leaves, flowers or fruit that might not be a problem within the garden might be more of a problem at the curb. It is not so easy to rake such debris if cars park over it. Trees that are commonly infested with scale or aphid are likely to drop sticky honeydew (scale and aphid poop) onto parked cars.
Unfortunately, those who get street trees do not always get to select them. Many municipalities assign specific trees to specific streets. Some streets have a few trees to choose from. Others have only one option. Home Owners’ Associations (HOAs) decide if and where new trees get planted.
Crape myrtle is probably the most common choice for a new street tree because the roots do not get big enough to damage pavement. However, the canopies are not very big either. They stay too low to be pruned above trucks. Crape myrtle is susceptible to scale infestation that can get bad enough to make sidewalks sticky.
For many years, London plane (sycamore) had been another popular street tree. Unfortunately, the voracious roots can damage pavement within only a few years. The messy foliage discolors and starts to fall before autumn.
For several years in the late 1960 and early 1970s, European white birch were trendy. Most lived in ubiquitous groups of three. Where three did not fit, a single multi trunk tree, typically with three trunks, was a popular option. Each multi trunk tree provided as many trunks as a few single trunk trees. For these particular white birch, the elegant white trunks were their most appealing feature.
Multi trunk trees, which are popularly known as ‘multis’, are only structurally different from their counterparts with single trunks. Multi trunk crape myrtle are genetically identical to crape myrtle of the same cultivar, but with single trunks. The only difference is that multi trunk trees branch at ground level, instead of at the top of a single straight trunk. Each needs to be pruned to the desired form.
Multi trunk birch, paperbark and lemon gum exhibit appealing bark. More trunks display more bark than single trunks. Multi trunk strawberry tree, olive and oak exhibit appealingly sculptural form. Cork oak and crape myrtle provide both appealing bark and sculptural form. Silk tree, acacia and deciduous magnolia display their bloom more effectively with lower and broader multi trunk form.
Trees get help to develop into a desired form. European white birch, lemon gum and silk tree are more likely to develop single trunks naturally. Coppicing compels them to regenerate with several trunks. Conversely, olive, crape myrtle and strawberry tree develop a few trunks naturally. Single trunk trees need thinning to remove the superfluous trunks, and staking to straighten a single trunk.
In home gardens, multi trunk trees sometimes evolve from overgrown shrubbery. Pineapple guava may be shrubby for may years before lower growth gets pruned away to reveal sculptural trunks within. English laurel that gets too overgrown for containment pruning might become a delightful multi trunk tree instead. It will be pleased to grow freely from the top if lower growth gets pruned off.
Multi trunk trees are no more natural than trees with single trunks are, but they seem to be.