Los Angeles will be forever linked, in the collective unconscious, with the palm tree. But what about the pine, the oak and, of course, the outrageous jacaranda? Because almost anything can grow here, Los Angeles is brimming with all manner of species of trees.
Yet trees aren't treated the same as the Hollywood Sign, the Walk of Fame, the LACMA street lamp sculpture Urban Light. Well, it's high time that changed. Here then is a list of the eight most essential trees in Los Angeles, plus one dead one.
8. The Aoyama Tree
Unceremoniously located on the fringes of a city-owned parking lot in Little Tokyo, just outside the Geffen Contemporary MOCA* art museum, this 60-foot Moreton Bay Fig tree is thought to have been planted more than a century ago. For years, it stood at the entrance of the Koyasan Daishi Mission, one of the oldest Buddhist temples in the city. The temple moved in 1940, and when the building was razed to make way for an LAPD parking lot, city crews paved over the tree's sprawling roots. In 2008, the Aoyama Tree was designated as Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument #920.
7. The Grove Christmas Tree
It may not be the world's tallest Christmas tree – that distinction belonged, last year, to the 115-foot tree at the Citadel Outlet Mall in Commerce. And no, it's not the same tree every year. But tens of thousands of people still turn out each year for the lighting of the Grove's 100-foot-tall white fir, decorated with more than 10,000 lights and 15,000 ornaments. It is, of course, mall developer Rick Caruso's answer to the Rockefeller Center tree, which is a piddling 75 to 90 feet high. The lighting ceremony is broadcast live on CBS; last year's featured a musical performance from Earth, Wind & Fire.
6. The Wisdom Tree
This small and fragile-looking pine stands alone atop Cahuenga Peak, a 15-minute walk from the Hollywood Sign. According to legend, it was once a store-bought living Christmas tree and was ultimately planted atop the hill, then was burned nearly to a crisp in 2007. Somehow, the Wisdom Tree survived. It makes for a great, exceedingly Instagram-able hiking moment. And at its base sits an ammo box full of journals, where people leave messages for the meditative tree.
5. Miramar Moreton Bay fig
There's a great legend about this 80-foot-tall fig tree in Santa Monica, relayed by real estate agent Jodi Summers' blog:
The story of this Moreton Bay fig tree dates back to the 1880s, when Santa Monica was a summer holiday spot. An Australian sailor had been drinking at the Rapp Saloon, or someplace similar. When the bill came, he had no money to pay for his drinks. The Aussie bartered with the bartender, offering him a Moreton Bay fig tree sapling instead of cash. Figuring it was this or nothing, the bartender accepted. Having no interest in plants, the bartender then gave the sapling to the wife of Senator [Percival] Jones, who requested that her gardener plant it in the yard of their estate.
Today the massive tree, the second-largest of its kind in California, stands just outside the luxury Fairmont Miramar Hotel.
4. The Wally Waldron Tree
Ok, so this one isn't actually within the city limits, but it is in Los Angeles County. Named for a member of the executive board of the Los Angeles Area Council of the Boy Scouts who had a really amazing name, the Wally Waldron tree is, at more than 1,500 years of age, one of the oldest trees in the San Gabriel Mountains.
The limber pine is located along the Mount Baden-Powell trail, according to Modern Hiker's Casey Schreiner, one of the must-dos in the Angeles National Forest.
3. L.A.'s Oldest Palm Tree (maybe)
Palm trees aren't indigenous to Los Angeles. How this palm came to sit, unassumingly, at the edge of Exposition Park on Figueroa Street is quite a story. Here's what the incomparable history blogger Nathan Masters had to say about it:
Likely still a sapling when it was dug up from a desert canyon in the late 1850s, the tree was transplanted with several other young palms to San Pedro Street in present-day Little Tokyo. Over the next 30 years, the trees grew up as Los Angeles matured around them. In 1888, the Times called the palms, which had witnessed the town’s evolution from a community of less than 5,000 to a booming city of nearly 50,000, “among the oldest landmarks of Los Angeles."
In 1888, one of the trees was torn out (someone wanted to build a warehouse on the land), boxed and wheeled several blocks over to the newly built Southern Pacific Railroad Arcade Station at Central Avenue and Fifth Street. There, the tree would greet thousands of newcomers to L.A. over the next few decades.
In 1914, plans for a larger train depot called for the tree to be moved once again, this time to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Figueroa, where it sits today at more than 100 feet tall.
2. The Chandelier Tree
When makeup artist Adam Tenenbaum began stringing chandeliers over the branches of his Silver Lake sycamore tree, he hardly could have known what a sensation he would cause. According to the L.A. Times:
Marriage proposals and wedding photo shoots are commonly held beneath the tree, and locals often show off the tree to visitors. The sycamore has appeared in music videos, and five film location scouts list the location in their books.
Some people have made pilgrimages from San Diego and even overseas to behold the sight. Children (and adults) are drawn to the radiant tree as if it were the threshold to J.R.R. Tolkien's enchanted Middle-earth.
Now Tenenbaum's tree, located outside the home he rents on West Silver Lake Drive, supports 30 chandeliers. They aren't lit up every night, but when they are, it's really something to see. There's a good short documentary about it, too.
1. El Pino Famoso
How did this pino get so famoso? A movie, of course. The tree — which technically isn't a pine tree but an Australian conifer — was featured prominently in Taylor Hackford's three-hour, 1993 cult film Blood In, Blood Out, about East L.A. street gangs.
Somehow, that's made this tall, gawky tree a genuine tourist destination. According to the L.A. Times:
In a case of Hollywood fiction becoming reality, an anonymous tree in an unremarkable neighborhood of stucco homes is cast as a landmark — and becomes one.
The tree doesn't appear on any tour bus routes or maps of Hollywood stars' homes. But neighbors say people of all races have made pilgrimages from as far away as China and as close as Boyle Heights.
"They come over here and chill, looking at the tree," said Daniel Gomez, 18, a gang member who grew up in the neighborhood. "It's nothing new to me. It's just a tree. The pino. The famous pino."
The dead one: The Lang Tree
"When the famed Lang oak tree of Encino was but a sapling," wrote the L.A. Times in 1991, "the Mayan empire was crumbling and Vikings were sacking English sea towns."
Yes, the Lang Tree, or Encino Oak, was estimated to be more than 1,000 years old – by far the oldest living tree in Los Angeles. It was 150 feet tall and 8 feet in diameter, so wide that when they were laying out Louise Street, they had to split the lane in two to accommodate the tree. It was designated a Historic-Cultural Monument in 1963.
Over the years, the tree was weakened by air pollution, by oak-root fungus, by a bacteria called slime flux. In 1996, the Times wrote: "His skin is mottled, some of his limbs are held together with pins, and his great, shaggy head hangs from its own weight. Old Lang is in trouble."
The death blow was delivered on Feb. 7, 1998, as the El Niño rains weighed down the oak's branches, and the winds pushed it over. We don't normally quote Wikipedia, but its article on the tree is really quite good:
After decades of being threatened by development and pollution, one resident noted the irony that "now it goes because of nature." As souvenir hunters sought to take pieces of the tree, police officers guarded it until its remains could be removed. One officer noted: "It got out of control. It's sad that we had to take two policemen off the street to watch a tree."
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Now all that's left is the stump.
* A previous version of this post stated the tree stood outside the MOCA Grand