Booking a Look at Some of L.A.'s Exceptional Trees

When we asked this last summer for additional plants of monumental stature--plants with historic value or plants that had grown to amazing size--we didn’t expect an entire book, but that is what we got.

It seems that Donald R. Hodel, with the U.C. Cooperative Extension, has been compiling a list of exceptional trees, and his discoveries now have been published by the California Arboretum Foundation in a book titled “Exceptional Trees of Los Angeles.”

The 167 trees in this book were chosen from a list of 1,000 suggested to Hodel by botanists and horticulturists. Hodel looked at all and photographed each for the book, and there are some stunning trees pictured here, all in color. Better yet, there are maps in the back of the book so you can go and see this majesty for yourself.

Notable for Possibilities


While its intent is to show trees that are exceptional because of “age, historical or cultural value, aesthetic quality, endemic status, location, rarity, or size--including height, girth of trunk at chest height, and spread of branches,” this book is also a notable catalogue of what trees we can grow here. And there are many, including some few have heard of such as the baphia, toog, ear-pod tree, paradox walnut, sausage tree, cow-itch, ombu and taluma.

But let’s start with some easy ones. The largest live oak is pictured here, the Encino oak, estimated to be 1,000 years old with a trunk 24 feet around. The Ganter avocado in Whittier is here, planted in 1905, insured at one time by Lloyds of London and producing during one season 6,000 avocados.

Believe it or not, one of the citrus trees planted in the area’s first grove by John William Wolfskill (this grove is pictured in many L.A. history books) still is alive, after being discovered behind a building in a vacant lot in downtown Los Angeles. Members of the Southern California Gardener’s Federation saved the gnarled old grapefruit and it now resides in the plaza of the Japanese-American Cultural and Community Center in Little Tokyo.

How about eucalyptus? The biggest lemon gum--the most graceful of the lot--is in Covina at Grand Avenue and Puente Street and is more than 100 feet tall and 13 feet around. There also is a rose gum Eucalyptus grandis at UCLA that is 125 feet tall and only 30 years old. That certainly must be some kind of record.


Some of the exceptional trees are whole street-fulls. One huge, elegant camphor is shown in Pomona (with a spread of 80 feet and a trunk 13 feet around), but more impressive are the plantings on Maple Drive in Beverly Hills and on Ninita Parkway in Pasadena where they roof the streets below.

Two exceptional California fan palms, planted by a prospector who brought the seedlings to Los Angeles by burro, are shown, but the double alley of palms lining the entry to Monrovia Nursery in Azusa takes your breath away.

How about the Mexican fan palms, those extra-tall palms that cast a tiny shadow blocks away from where they grow? Turns out the tallest are, appropriately, at the Los Angeles County Arboretum in Arcadia. They are as tall as the eucalyptus at 100 feet and are 100 years old.

The arboretum is where you can buy this book. It is being sold at the Los Angeles Garden Show, which is at the arboretum now and lasts through the weekend. The book costs $14.95 and the show $5 ($3 for seniors and students with ID). Hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. The arboretum is at 301 N. Baldwin Ave., Arcadia.

I suspect that many of Los Angeles’ exceptional trees were planted in the fall, because it was a lot harder to water back then, and the annual return of the rainy season was when most gardens went into the ground--an idea whose time has come again.