East Palo Alto Tree Initiative

A collaborative effort by Canopy, Cal Fire and the City of East Palo Alto, the East Palo Alto Tree Initiative (EPA-TI) has accomplished its goal of planting and establishing more than 1,200 new trees in East Palo Alto since 2007.

Board Certified Master Arborist and Canopy Board member Dave Muffly designed the ambitious planting. He selected more than 20 different species to satisfy multiple criteria, including drought tolerance and suitability for overhead utilities.

Over 300 trees were planted by volunteers from seeds and acorns. Nearly 900 of the trees were planted along Highway 101’s barren sound walls.

Launched by Wangari Maathai

Nobel Peace Laureate Wangari Maathai launched the initiative during an  April 30, 2006 visit and ceremonial planting. “I am happy to join you in launching the campaign to plant trees in East Palo Alto," she stated. "I will keep writing back to find out how far you have gone. I want to know of your progress because, here on this beautiful Sunday afternoon, East Palo Alto has changed and become a truly green city.”  Here is a video of Wangari giving her inspiring speech in East Palo Alto.

As these young trees grow they will increasingly muffle highway noise and filter particulate pollution from cars. Evergreen trees planted in rows—like the ones Canopy planted along East and West Bayshore Roads— can capture up to 85% of the air pollution particles blowing through their branches. With the right care, East Palo Alto’s new urban forest will grow to provide the community with numerous social, environmental and economic benefits.


More than 1,200 trees successfully established

Canopy obtained a grant from Cal Fire (California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection), which provided the initial funding for trees and an irrigation system. Additional planting funding was provided by the Alliance for Community Trees. Through special campaigns and fundraising events, Canopy funds its tree care program to ensure the long term survival of the young trees. All trees were carefully selected at the nursery to ensure they were of the best possible stock. Before planting, each tree’s root ball was prepared to avoid potential problems caused by circling and girdling roots. The combination of careful design and extensive pre- and post-planting care has resulted in the project’s exceptional 98% tree survival rate. Only a few trees have been lost, most of them due traffic accidents. See a map of Canopy’s plantings in East Palo Alto.

Ensuring long term care

The tree species selected were all drought-tolerant.  However, to ensure successful establishment all young trees need to be watered the first few summers after planting.  Trees planted along the sound walls are automatically watered by an irrigation system.  Trees planted in street medians are watered regularly by watering trucks.  Each summer since planting, Canopy has organized community volunteers to survey the health of each tree and determine whether any corrective actions are needed. These teams of trained volunteers have performed much of the tree care work, including training, pruning, weeding, mulching, and maintenance of the irrigation system.The City of East Palo Alto will assume the responsibility for long-term maintenance of the trees after Canopy’s contractual three-year maintenance commitment period expires.

The important role of neighborhood youth

In partnership with JobTrain, Canopy created the EPA-TI Youth Program to involve young adults from East Palo Alto in the EPA-TI. The program offers part-time employment to underserved youth and is designed to encourage leadership and tree stewardship. Before the planting, the youth staff assembled portions of the irrigation system and protective shelters for the seedlings. They were involved in all aspects of the planting and are now instrumental in the tree care work.

The planting plan

Twenty different species of trees were planted during the initial phase.  All are drought-tolerant and were selected for their strong structural characteristics and the fact that they won’t disrupt pavement and sidewalks.  Nearly all are evergreen and thus will not lose their leaves all at once in the fall.  About one-third of the trees are oaks of different varieties.  Many of the trees were selected because of their beautiful flowering habits, such as Marina Madrone, Strawberry Tree, and Primrose.

  • Marina Madrone (Arbutus ‘Marina’)
  • Strawberry Tree (Arbutus unedo)
  • ‘Tuscarora’ Crape Myrtle (Lagerstroemia ‘Tuscarora’)
  • Primrose Tree (Lagunaria patersonii)
  • Flaxleaf Paperbark (Melaleuca linariifolia)
  • African Olive (Olea Africana)
  • Mediterranean Olive (Olea europaea)
  • Scotch Pine (Pinus sylvestris)
  • Catalina Cherry (Prunus lyonii)*
  • Coast Live Oak (Quercus agrifolia)
  • Arizona White Oak (Quercus arizonica)
  • Engelman Oak (Quercus engelmannii)
  • Dwarf Interior Live Oak (Quercus parvula)*
  • Netleaf Oak (Quercus rugosa)
  • Cork Oak (Quercus suber)
  • Island Oak (Quercus tomentella)
  • Southern Live Oak (Quercus virginiana)
  • Tipu Tree (Tipuana tipu)
  • Water Gum (Tristaniopsis laurina)
  • Elegant Water Gum (Tristaniopsis laurina ‘Elegans’)

* Planted from seed/acorn