It was another sunny, beautiful day last Wednesday for the Piedmont Recreation Department’s Walking on Wednesdays group, and 33 members of the group and one K-9 best friend were at the Exedra to enjoy it.
Siow Fang Tan had shared information on the Piedmont Park Commission and City Parks & Project Manager Nancy Kent’s annual "Heritage Trees of Piedmont" program. Piedmont Post news features about past selected trees had also been in recent issues. This program is intended to create greater community understanding and appreciation of the beauty, history, and significance of trees in Piedmont, and also generate applications for the City’s 2022 Heritage Trees.
The walkers thought it would be fun and informative to go see some of the past Heritage Trees, and also submit a tree candidate of their own. There were four previously selected Heritage Trees and three candidates that the group could see and talk about on a walk from the Exedra up Hampton Road.
The first past Heritage Tree was an easy one for the walkers to see. They just had to look up at the Highland poplars that surround the Exedra. Claudia Lopez remembered them being planted years ago. They were mature then, but have grown significantly. This is a deciduous tree with a shapely oval form. They are considered to be drought-tolerant. Their large, serrated, heart-shaped leaves turn yellow in fall. They are fast growers and will grow to be about 50 feet tall at maturity with a spread of 30 feet. Under ideal conditions they can live for 60 years or more.
The next Heritage Tree was easy for the walkers to see too. All they had to do was go behind the Exedra and walk to the Community Hall. In front of it is a Yulan Magnolia. This tree is native to China, and is also called Lilly Magnolia. It was probably the first magnolia cultivated about 4,000 years ago. It has pure white, elegant flowers, and was regarded as far back as 650 AD by Buddhist monks as a symbol of purity. The tree in front of the Community Hall was planted by former Piedmont Public Works superintendent Dave Frankel.
The next past selection was even easier to get to. A set of Japanese maple trees were on the other side of the Community Hall driveway, next to the Tea House. Unlike many other Piedmont trees, their leaves had not yet emerged. These maples are prized for their delicate and colorful foliage throughout the growing season and autumn. This tree is a smallish and slow-growing, with mature heights up to 30 feet. Their leaves offer striking color throughout the growing season, becoming even more beautiful with their fall color change.
The next tree to see was the first of the group’s candidates for a 2022 Heritage Tree. It was the very tall California redwood just inside the old columns of Frank C. Havens’ Wildwood Estate in Wildwood Gardens. This is a massive tree that has been watered by an underwater creek for decades. This is an evergreen species that can live 1,200 to 2,200 years or more. They are among the oldest living things on earth, and also the tallest trees, reaching up to 379 feet in height without the roots and up to 29 feet in diameter. The species is monoecious, with pollen and seed cones on the same plant. The walkers loved this tree and posed for the attached group photo in front of it.
The walkers’ next tree to see was another past Heritage Tree selection, the European white birch, which is just up Wildwood Avenue in the Hall Fenway. A set of these trees line its lower walkway. This is a short-lived species native to northern North America. Its thin, white bark peels in paper like layers from the trunk. The wood is often used for pulpwood and firewood. It is a medium-sized deciduous tree typically reaching 66 feet tall, and exceptionally to 130 feet with a trunk up to 30 inches in diameter. This tree is a typically short-lived species, but in colder-climate regions can grow for more than 100 years. Its fall color is a bright yellow.
The next tree for the walkers was another candidate for their submission. It was the Monterey pine, across the street in Crocker Park. This tree is a native to the Central Coast of California and Mexico. It is an evergreen and is a versatile, fast-growing, medium-density softwood, suitable for a wide range of uses. It is the most widely cultivated pine in the world, and is also the most widely planted tree for choose-and-cut Christmas tree farms in California. Its root system can extend 30 to 39 feet. They grow to between 50 and 100 feet in height in the wild, and up to 200 feet in cultivation. They attain full size in 80 to 100 years, but rarely live beyond 150 years. Some walkers remembered one of these Crocker Park pines coming down a few years back in a wind storm and falling into Hampton Road.
The next tree for the walkers to see was their last submission candidate. There is a grove of huge eucalyptus trees on Hampton where St. James Drive ends. They are also known as “gum trees,” and are an iconic Australian tree. There are almost 900 species of them growing across Australia, Tasmania, and nearby islands. They are also found throughout California, and have become invasive along our coast. They grow rapidly, and many species attain great height. The giant gum tree is one of the largest and can grow to about 300 feet and have a circumference of about 25 feet. A eucalyptus tree can grow six feet each year. They can have long lives with most species able to survive 250 years. Their wood is sometimes used as a less expensive and more easily and sustainably farmed hardwood. Eucalyptus leaves are also poisonous to most animals and humans.
Eucalyptus trees got here as seeds on boats coming to California from Australia in the 1850s during the Gold Rush. Australians were among the throngs flocking here. However, within a few decades of their arrival, many Californians grew disenchanted with eucalyptus. They proved terrible for woodworking, and the wood often split and cracked, making it a poor choice for railroad ties. The trees were also thirsty and drained wells. They are filled with aromatic oil, which makes them highly combustible. In the East Bay firestorm of 1991 vast swaths of eucalyptus burned, and the fire left 25 people dead and thousands homeless.
The walkers had now seen all their Heritage Tree candidates and it was time to vote. The California redwood won in a landslide, figuratively, not literally. It got all the votes, except one by Sherry Jacobs who voted for the Monterey pine. The eucalyptus might have gotten negative votes.
The walk and talking had been educational, but time consuming. With the voting done, and no need for a recount, it was time for the walkers to retrace their steps to town center. The walkers had enjoyed this beautiful morning walk learning about Piedmont’s beautiful trees.