San Francisco’s Landmark Trees

24 Apr

San Francisco’s Landmark Trees


The city extends special privileges to “the best trees” in San Francisco, but which ones are those?

Brock Keeling

Russian Hill neighbors were barking mad about the possibility that a backyard redwood tree near Lombard Street might become one of San Francisco’s leafy elite, joining the ranks of the city’s landmark tree program. Which had us wondering about out city’s sanctioned trees.

Starting in 2007, Public Works began extending special protections to city trees dubbed “the best,” but just what does that mean?

There are a few technical qualifications, to wit: “Significant trees are within 10 feet of the public right-of-way and also meet one of the following size requirements: 20 feet or greater in height, 15 feet or greater canopy width, 12 inches or greater diameter of trunk measured at 4.5 feet above grade.”

But there must be more to it than merely measurements. So, just in time for Earth Day, here’s a closer look at the city’s arboreal all-stars.


1 New Zealand Christmas Tree

Most New Zealand Christmas trees have red flowers—hence their name, as they appear to bear festive winter-time ornaments when in bloom. But this tree on Stanyan Street is highly unusual mutant specimen that blooms yellow. It grew from a cutting of an anomalous yellow blooming phenomena on a tiny New Zealand island in 1940.

1221 Stanyan St
San Francisco, CA 94117

2 Blue Elderberry Tree

Looks aren’t everything. This blue elderberry in Bernal Heights may not be the most photogenic tree on the list, but the city believes that it’s “a naturally occurring remnant of the original San Francisco forest,” an immediate descendant of a tree that lived and died before European settlers came to San Francisco. Its seed likely lodged in a convenient place for ages until roadwork dislodged it into more fertile soil, where it then did what comes naturally.

3450 Folsom St
San Francisco, CA 94110

3 Bancroft Library Fig Tree

This fig tree planed in 1905 marks the original location of the Bancroft Library, which now resides in Berkeley. Presumably, it’s among the city’s most well-read foliage.

3555 Cesar Chavez St
San Francisco, CA 94110

4 Mary Ellen Pleasant Park Blue Gums

Mary Ellen Pleasant Park, named for San Francisco’s own 19th century anti-slavery crusader, is the smallest public park in the city, so much so that most people walk right through it without realizing it. But it does boast a half dozen trees planted by Pleasant herself some 120-plus years ago.

Brock Keeling
1801 Bush St
San Francisco, CA 94109

5 Dolores Median Date Palms

There are palms all over Dolores Street, but only two of them are of the phoenix sylvestris variety, which snuck in line with the larger and more common (in SF, at least) phoenix canariensis, landmarks in and of themselves. The city became particularly fond of palms after the 1989 earthquake; palms in San Francisco have always rubbed locals the wrong way (Herb Caen complained about them in his very first column), but City Hall deems them practical and attractive.

730 Dolores St
San Francisco, CA 94110

6 Dolores Median Guadalupe Palms

These shorter, bushier Dolores Street median palm trees get along well in the city because their original home, Guadalupe Island, tends toward fog, and because they’re naturally drought-resistant, which has been a particularly lucky break in recent years. The city notes that they are “small but quite old”—which almost sounds like fighting words, but in a tree context is complimentary.

1630 Dolores St
San Francisco, CA 94110

7 Quesada Avenue Canary Palms

Speaking of phoenix canariensis (known as the Canary Island Date Palm), they may be relatively common in the city these days, but these 13 at the end of Quesada are apparently particularly stately and “well established.” The city decided that they add so much flair to this one block that it merited special recognition.

1750 Quesada Ave
San Francisco, CA 94124

8 California Buckeye

The city notes that this one isn’t particularly big, but since its home in a Richmond backyard provides it only “poor sandy soil” and subjects it to constant “ocean winds,” it gets bonus points for being a survivor.

Typical California buckeye flowering (no image of actual backyard tree available)
David Presad
730 28th Ave
San Francisco, CA 94121

9 Flowering Ash Trees

To be honest, this pair of flowering ash trees at the Bernal Heights Library mostly seems to get credit for how well they compliment the building. Although both the city and Michael Sullivan, author of The Trees of San Francisco, note that flowering ash trees are “exceedingly rare” in the city, so they’re not slouches themselves.

500 Cortland Ave
San Francisco, CA 94110

10 Sweet Bay Tree

There are several sweet bay trees promenading in front of the circa 1911 Customs Building, but this one happens to be the tallest in the city and the council was impressed that it was also “very well pruned,” so it gets the nod. As the name implies, it’s good for cooking; but of course, this one is a Very Important Tree, so hands off.

555 Battery St
San Francisco, CA 94111

11 Brazilian Pepper Tree, Third Street

This one might be called a diamond in the rough—or a somewhat rare and beautiful tree in the midst of a street median in the Bayview, which is precisely what it is. Known as Florida Holly, note that the berries and sap of this South American tree species are poisonous.

5500 3rd St
San Francisco, CA 94124

12 Flaxleaf Paperbark Tree

Friends of the Urban Forest note that the flowers of this Australian tree species “look like snow on branches in the summer.” and that for some reason it does particularly well planted beneath overhead wires. Who knew?

1701 Franklin St
San Francisco, CA 94109