Tree of the Month Archive

October Tree of the Month

Koelreuteria bipinnata – Chinese Flame Tree; Golden Rain Tree
Family: Sapindaceae
Origin: Western and Southern China

This is an attractive medium size tree, fast growing with a rounded crown, that can live to 100-years old, and grows between 30 and 40 feet tall, and equally as wide. Its single trunk is grayish brown with furrowed bark.

The tree is deciduous. The leaves are alternate, bipinnately compound with toothed margins: they start green, then change to a golden yellow in the fall before they drop in late fall or early winter.

In late summer the tree is completely covered with clusters of fragrant yellow flowers that attract bees and last through the fall. The flowers are prolific. When they drop on the ground, they cover the sidewalk with a dazzling golden carpet. Fruit pods that resemble Chinese lanterns follow. They start light green, then they change to a salmon/red color in the autumn before becoming a papery shade of brown in the winter. They are used in floral arrangements. This is one of the few trees that blooms in the summer.

The tree is planted in parks for its shade during the summer months and does well in an urban setting as a street tree. Its roots are non-invasive. This tree grows best in full sun and tolerates the summer heat and air pollution. Water needs are moderate. It requires light pruning when young, but not much when mature. The tree requires 6 feet cutouts. Known pests are wood borers, scale and Verticilium wilt. 

You can find this tree growing on Washington Boulevard between Hill Street and Allen Street as well as on Walnut Street in Pasadena.

Article and photos by Emina Darakjy

September Tree of the Month

Arbutus ‘Marina’ – Strawberry Tree
Family: Ericaceae
Origin: A hybrid that was introduced to the Nursery Trade in 1984 by the Saratoga Horticultural Foundation.

The Arbutus ‘Marina’ is a very handsome evergreen tree with a broad canopy and dense foliage, native to the Mediterranean and some parts of Ireland. The growth rate is moderate, the tree can reach a height of 50 feet with a width of about 40 feet. The leaves are elliptic in shape, dark green, glossy with serrated edges. The tree has an amazing looking trunk with a reddish to cinnamon colored bark that peals away in layers in late summer exposing a smooth lighter colored bark underneath.

The flowers hang down in clusters (resembling the Lily of the Valley) in various shades of pink and attract bees, hummingbirds and butterflies. The tree tends to have both the flowers and mature fruit on it at the same time. The fruit can take up to 2 years to mature and looks like small rounded warty globes. They start green in color, turning yellow, orange and finally bright red at which point it becomes edible without much of a flavor though.

The tree does well in a 3-foot parkway, is drought tolerant once established, performs better in full sun, and can benefit from occasional pruning to shape it. It is not recommended for underneath power lines. The tree is resistant to Armillaria but susceptible to Anthractose, Scales and Thrips. The tree can be planted both as a standard or multi trunk form, this is a truly gorgeous tree but not very suitable as a street tree because the dropping of the ripe fruit on sidewalks is messy and slippery.

The tree in the photo can be seen where Thurgood Marshall and North Euclid streets meet behind the Pasadena City Hall.

Article and photos by Emina Darakjy

July/August Tree of the Month

Jacaranda mimosifolia, commonly known as Jacaranda
Family: Bignoniaceae
Origin: Brazil and Argentina

The jacaranda is a very spectacular tree when in bloom. It is fast growing with a height of 25 to 50 feet, and a spread of 50 plus feet.  It is considered a partially deciduous tree.

The leaves are light green and up to 2 feet long and each leaf is composed of dozens of ¼ inch leaflets. The leaves are delicate and fernlike.  The trunk bark is grayish brown, smooth at first turning rough as the tree matures. In late spring the jacaranda tree gets covered with clusters of fragrant rich violet/blue trumpet shaped flowers that are 2 inches long. The tree continues to bloom sporadically throughout the summer. After that brown disk-shaped seed pods appear.

There is also a white flower variety which is rare called: Jacaranda mimosifolia alba. You can find one growing at the corner of south Lake Avenue and Del Mar in Pasadena.

The Jacaranda prefers a soil with good drainage, is drought tolerant when mature, does better in a sunny area but tolerates partial shade. It requires a minimum parkway width of 5 feet. The damage to sidewalks from its roots is moderate.  The tree is susceptible to aphids and Phytophthora root disease.

In his 1988 book titled “Exceptional Trees of Los Angeles” Donald R. Hodel describes a Jacaranda tree at 1870 south Los Robles in San Marino as “The largest and most outstanding specimen in the area” with a 50 feet height and a spread of over 50 feet.

I visited this tree recently with Mr. Hodel’s book in hand and found the tree to be even more spectacular than it did in 1988. The homeowner came out and was very happy to see her tree featured in a book. She moved into the house 13 years ago and heard from her realtor that the tree is famous!

You will find the jacaranda trees gracing many neighborhoods and parks in southern California, and if your plane happens to be landing at LAX in late spring, don’t forget to look out of your window, you will be rewarded with a breathtaking view of a sea of purple flowers.

Article and photos by Emina Darakjy

June Tree of the Month

Quercus agrifolia (commonly known as coast live oak)

Quercus agrifolia also commonly known as the coast live oak which belongs to the Fagaceae (Beech) family is native to the California coastal mountains and valleys and can be found in areas from Mendocino County to northern Baja California.  

This oak species is widely planted and in Pasadena it makes up for 10.08 % of the city’s tree inventory.  This is a big evergreen tree which can reach a height of up to 70 feet tall.  It has a large spread with gnarled branches and limbs with a rounded dense canopy.  The trunk is short and therefore, does not make for a good timber tree. The tree is considered very drought tolerant and can withstand both the heat and coastal conditions.  Like all other mature native California oaks, the coast live oak does not need to be watered during the summer months. Too much water can cause root fungus (Armillaria) which kills the tree.  If planted in an irrigated area, make sure to direct the water spray away from the tree trunk. 

When young, the trunk and bark of the tree are smooth and light gray becoming dark brown and thick with deep furrows as the tree matures. The leaves are oval and curved under.  It is spiny along the edges like the holly leaves, glossy dark green on the upper side and veins with tufts of hair on the underside. The acorns of the coast live oaks are narrow and pointed with a dark chestnut brown color and deep puffy caps. In the early days, these acorns provided a good source of food for Native Americans. 

The coast live oak is a very attractive specimen tree and does well in urban setting when planted in a parkway that is at least 10 feet wide giving it ample space to grow.  The tree does not tolerate severe root pruning and can cause moderate to severe sidewalk damage.  Among some of the pests and diseases to watch out for are Armillaria (root fungus), oak twig girdler, sudden oak death, the California oak worm and the Polyphagus Shot hole borer.

Here is an important fact about the oak that many of you may not know:
In 2001 the National Arbor Day Foundation conducted a poll over a 4-month period asking people all over the US which was their favorite tree.   At the end when the votes were tallied, the winner with 101,000 votes was the Oak (no particular species).   Coming in second place was the California Redwood with 81,000 votes.  Fast forward to 2004, Congress passed a historic bill which was signed on December 15th by then President George W. Bush making the oak America’s National Tree.

Article and photos by Emina Darakjy

May Tree of the Month

Cinnamomum Camphora (commonly known as camphor tree)
Synonyms: Camphora officinalis, C. officinarum
Family: Laurel
Origin: China, Taiwan, southern Japan, Korea and Vietnam

The camphor is a gorgeous evergreen large shade tree, grows moderately fast, its canopy is rounded, very dense with arching strong branches. The tree can grow up to 50 feet tall and more and twice that wide which results in overcanopying in several streets throughout Pasadena.

One such street where you get to drive through a tunnel-like-effect of greenery is Prospect Boulevard from Orange Grove to Prospect Terrace in Pasadena where the first camphor trees were planted in 1904 and several of them still grace the neighborhood. An interesting example is the black and white photo below taken in 1904, courtesy of the Pasadena Museum of History and a recent color photo of the same location showing the overcanopying.

The camphor tree requires a large space to grow, does better in an 8- to 10-foot parkway, tolerates the summer heat and most soil conditions from acid to alkaline, it makes a great street tree, and does well in parks and large medians. The camphor tree is very prevalent in southern California and other southern states, it is however considered invasive in Florida. In Pasadena it makes up 9.17% of the city’s tree inventory list.

The trunk has furrowed light gray bark and becomes enlarged at the base with age. This unfortunately can cause the sidewalks to lift. The leaves are elliptical to ovate and emit a pleasant aroma of camphor when crushed. Even though the tree is considered evergreen some of the older leaves tend to drop in the late winter and early spring and are replaced with new pink to copper colored leaves that turn bright green and glossy as they mature.

In the spring the tree is covered with tiny little white to creamy, green-colored flowers that are fragrant, followed by clusters of globular black berries which contains a seed inside that birds love to eat.

Some of the diseases to worry about are Verticillium wilt, root diseases and anthracnose. The tree is valuable commercially for the camphor that is distilled from its leaves and wood.

Article and photos by Emina Darakjy

April Tree of the Month

Pink Cloud Cherry Blossom Tree

Pasadena is very fortunate to have several Pink Cloud flowering cherry trees with dark pink flowers growing in Victory Park, Memorial Park and Central Park. These trees can also add a beautiful accent to any garden.

Some background information on how the cherry trees came to be planted in Pasadena.  In 1957 Pasadena became a sister city to Mishima in Japan, a town located about 75 miles southwest of Tokyo.  Thanks to the Sister City Committee, friendships were formed, and cultural exchanges took place between Pasadena and Mishima.  

In 2012, the Consul General of Japan in Los Angeles contacted Pasadena to let them know that an unlimited number of free bareroot Pink Cloud cherry trees were being made available to select cities in Southern California that had relationships with cities in Japan. The City Council then instructed the sister city committee to obtain 50 trees. These trees were procured and donated by the Huntington Botanical Garden to Pasadena.

The trees were planted in various parks in Pasadena in 2012 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of when 3000 flowering cherry trees, a gift from the Mayor of Tokyo Japan to the United States were planted in Washington D.C. in 1912. These trees were meant to celebrate the growing friendship between the people of Japan and the United States.

This Pink Cloud variety grows 15 to 20 feet tall and as wide with a willowy round shape. The leaves are simple, alternate and toothed. The flowers have 5 petals and appear before the leaves in late March and early April.  Flowering cherry trees require full sun, good air circulation and a well-drained soil rich in organic matter. They also require some pruning during the winter.

There are many other cultivars of flowering cherry trees with blossoms ranging in color from white to dark pink. These trees produce some of the most dramatic blooms during the spring. The bloom season unfortunately lasts only a few weeks. Most cultivars live 30 to 40 years with a few exceptions such as the ones in Washington D.C. where some of the original trees that were planted in 1912 are still alive.

The sight of cherry blossoms is so spectacular people travel from all over to attend the Cherry Blossom Festival in our Nation’s capital. If you can’t make it to Washington D.C. or Japan where the tradition of celebrating the cherry blooms goes back thousands of years, you can still be dazzled by the beauty of the ones growing here in Pasadena.

Article and photos by Emina Darakjy

March Tree of the Month

HANDROANTHUS HEPTAPHYLLUS, (Pink Trumpet Tree)
Synonyms: Handroanthus avellanedae, Tabebeuia impetiginosa

We are very fortunate to have several specimens of this tree growing throughout Pasadena. Several years ago, Pasadena Beautiful planted about 230 Tabebeuias on Colorado Boulevard from Wilson Street to Roosevelt Avenue.

This time of the year the trees put on an extravagant display of bright pink flowers that make drivers want to pull over to take a picture. Other areas where you can find these attractive trees growing in Pasadena are on Union Street between Arroyo Parkway and Fair Oaks Avenue; on Dayton Street between Fair Oaks Avenue and Pasadena Avenue; on Holly Street between Fair Oaks Avenue and Raymond Avenue and on Oak Knoll Ave from Walnut Street to Green Street.

This is a small to medium sized tree, 25 to 50 feet tall and almost as wide, with a light straight gray trunk, native to the tropical areas of Mexico, Argentina and Brazil. The tree is partially deciduous. Heavy clusters of showy pink flowers with a yellow throat appear on leafless branches in early spring, the spectacular display of flowers is followed by foot long seed pods that hang onto the tree until winter. This tree does better in warmer areas, is considered drought tolerant once established with no significant pest or disease problems and is suitable for planting under power lines, in parkways, parks and as an accent in a garden.

I feel it is worth sharing with you the little-known fact behind how we got to know the Tabebeuia tree. According to James E. Henrick the Senior Biologist and Curator of the Living Collection at the Los Angeles County Arboretum in Arcadia, the desire to introduce the Tabebeuia to Southern California originated with Dr. Russell J. Seibert, director of the Los Angeles County Arboretum from 1950 to 1955.

Unfortunately, seed sources from South America at the time were not very reliable. However, that did not deter Dr. Samuel Ayres, Jr., president of the board of trustees of the then California Arboretum Foundation, Inc., from gathering seeds of different species while vacationing in Brazil between 1953 and 1955.
As it is now, the Arboretum was a testing ground for new plants to be evaluated before they are introduced to the nursery trade. As a result of these seed gatherings, the following Tabebeuias were evaluated and produced at the Arboretum and given to local nurseries to propagate and sell to the public.

The Tabebuia chrysotricha commonly known as the golden trumpet tree with eye catching bright yellow flowers was the first to come out in 1964. The Tabebeuia impetiginosa commonly known as pink trumpet tree seen in the present photos, followed in 1979. The Tabebeuia impetiginosa ‘Pink Cloud’ with its very light pink flowers came out in 1984. And the Tabebeuia impetiginosa ‘Raspberry’ with its lavender to dark pink flowers was introduced in 1986.  Beside the above-mentioned varieties there is another gorgeous one, Tabebuia x ‘Apricot’ with beautiful apricot color flowers, it too was produced by the Arboretum in 1970 but has not been introduced yet with plans to do that in the future.

Article and photos by Emina Darakjy