Where are L.A.'s oldest planted trees? In its first arboretum, hidden in plain sight

In 1893, L.A.'s affluent tree-lovers planted a grove of exotic trees in what was the city’s first arboretum in Elysian Park. More than a century later, they still stand and provide a guide to future tree plantings.
(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

There is no fence or entrance fee to the Chavez Ravine Arboretum in Elysian Park. Think of it as an inviting park with a sweeping lawn, children’s play area, barbecue pits and picnic tables — and the shade of some of the oldest and most beautiful trees in Los Angeles. It’s the site of the city’s first arboretum, a place where horticulturists can learn what thrives in the city and what doesn’t.

As L.A. embarks on an ambitious plan to plant 90,000 trees in the next two years, the oldsters planted more than a century ago provide examples of what trees do best in our changing climate.

Must-see treesat the arboretum include the Queensland kauri pine from New Zealand, which towers over the neighboring silk floss trees. The only kauri pine in the state of California that’s taller is in the Huntington Botanical Gardens.

Lie down in the grass under one of the two enormous South American tipu trees and behold its massive, multilimbed canopy. The African cape chestnut that dates to the 19th century blooms with pink lily-shaped flowers in early summer. The bulging base of the ombu tree explains its nickname: “elephant-foot tree.” The umbrella-like canopy provides shelter for gauchos on the Argentine pampas.


Long Beach City College horticulture professor Jorge Ochoa says you won’t find specimen Eastern oaks as splendid as the bur oak, pin oak, white oak and northern red oak anywhere else in L.A. Other favorites: a gnarled cork oak, a stately cedar of Lebanon, an imposing dawn redwood that hails from China and many species of L.A.'s palms.

Directions: Go to the arboretum’s website and click on Google Map directions or map directions to Chavez Ravine Road, Los Angeles, 90012. You can also locate it with Google Map directions to the Grace E. Simons Lodge, named for the founder of the Citizens Committee to Save Elysian Park.

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