Self-Guided Tree Walk: Downtown North

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The Downtown North Tree Walk begins at the corner of Hawthorne Avenue and Kipling Street.

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1. American Linden (Tilia americana)

~ 449 Hawthorne Avenue, street tree

With a 4’ diameter trunk, this tree has reached its mature size, though confined by concrete and utility lines. It has large heart-shaped leaves and lighter green leaf-like bracts. A stem in the middle of the bract holds small, pale yellow, fragrant flowers that become ¼” nutlets. In the fall, the bracts and nutlets fall like parachutes from the tree. The light, tough wood of the American Linden is used to make tongue depressors.

2. Italian Stone Pine (Pinus pinea)

~ Johnson Park, street tree across from 201 Kipling Street

This attractive pine tree has the characteristic round top shape and upward curving limbs of Italian Stone Pines. They have been cultivated for at least 6,000 years for their edible seeds, which we call pine nuts. Already a large tree, this pine will get much larger over time. Take the path through the park, starting at the corner of Hawthorne Avenue and Kipling Street.

3. Incense Cedar (Calocedrus decurrens)

~ Johnson Park, on the path, first tree on the right

In their native habitat, the Sierra Nevada and Cascade mountains at around 6000’, Incense Cedars live for centuries, partly because of their ability to withstand forest fires. Their wood contains substances that retard decay and repel moths and is used to make cedar chests, interior paneling, shingles, and pencils.

4. Blue Atlas Cedar (Cedrus atlantica ‘Glauca’)

~ Johnson Park, to the left, across a community garden bed

The distinctive blue color of this cedar makes it easy to spot. It is native to the Atlas Mountains in the northwest corner of the African continent. Once established, Blue Atlas Cedars are very drought-tolerant.

5. Avocado (Persea americana)

~ Johnson Park, in a concrete tree well circle

This large Avocado tree is probably a frost-resistant variety. Trees grown in this area from the seeds of store-bought avocados may succeed for a while but usually succumb to the first big freeze.

6. California Black Walnut (Juglans hindsii)

~ Johnson Park, on the right at the edge of the playground

This tree is native to central California and is often used as rootstock for the edible English walnuts. Each compound leaf contains 13–21 leaflets. As a survival mechanism, the roots give off a chemical that makes it difficult for other plants to grow under the tree.

7. Blackwood Acacia (Acacia melanoxylon)

~ Johnson Park, on the right at the edge of the playground

This multi-trunked tree is native to Australia. Its true leaves are small and feathery and rarely visible. What look like leaves are called phyllodes and are flattened leaf stalks that have adapted to look like and function as leaves. They lose less water than leaves, making the tree well adapted to a dry climate, which is in part why they are invasive here.

8. London Plane Tree (Platanus x acerfolia)

~ Johnson Park, many trees on the left surrounding the picnic table

Hybridized in England in the 17th century and introduced to America in colonial times, London Plane Trees are widely used as a street tree in Palo Alto. They have seed balls that release their seeds into the air before falling to the street.

9. Italian Cypress (Cupressus sempervirens)

~ 193 Waverley Street, 10 trees in front yard

These tall, narrow trees grow up to 60’ and are rarely more than 3’ wide. Traditionally, they are used in formal and Mediterranean-style gardens, but they are also useful as a drought-tolerant screen.

10. Red Maple (Acer rubrum)

~ 365 Hawthorne Avenue, 2 street trees

A common forest tree in its native eastern U.S., this tree requires regular watering or alluvial soils. If kept healthy it will provide spectacular red fall color. These two trees appear different because they are different cultivars of Red Maple. At least three cultivars of Red Maple appear on this block, including ‘October Glory’ and ‘Red Sunset.’

11a. Coast Redwood (Sequoia sempervirens)

~ 275 Hawthorne Avenue, 2 trees at the corner of the building at the street corner

The Coast Redwood is America’s tallest tree, reaching 350’ and living to well over 1,000 years. Locally, only the landmark Coast Redwood called El Palo Alto is that old. Most local Coast Redwoods were logged by the early 1900s, when they provided the cheapest lumber for local building.

11b. English Hawthorn (Crataegus laevigata)

~ 275 Hawthorne Avenue, 3 street trees on Hawthorne Avenue nearest the corner

The Hawthorn is a small tree that grows moderately fast up to 20’. Distinctive red berries form in summer, which attract birds and bees. The trunks of these trees are full of character with burls, deep grooves, scars and peeling bark.

12a. Purple-leaf Plum (Prunus cerasifera)

~ 187/195 Bryant Street, 3 street trees, 1 on the left of the driveway and 2 on the right

These ornamental plums have pale pink flowers in the spring before the leaves come out. Notice that the leaves of these three trees are slightly different colors. Various cultivars of Purple-leaf Plums have different characteristics including leaf color and the presence or absence of fruit.

12b. Chinese Hackberry (Celtis sinensis)

~ 187/195 Bryant Street, street tree in center

Considered in the past a low-maintenance, drought-tolerant tree, the Chinese Hackberry was heavily planted several decades ago. However it has proven problematic and is no longer recommended. You can recognize this tree by its bark. It is smooth and gray and has darker gray horizontal lines a few inches apart on the trunk. Birds find the berries delectable.

13. English Walnut (Juglans regia)

~ 185 Bryant Street, street tree

The English Walnut provides walnuts to eat and wood for furniture. It is one of the last trees to leaf out in the spring. By June, green-husked walnuts start to form. In the fall when they are ripe, you can remove the husk to find the familiar walnut.

14. Southern Magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora)

~ 179 Bryant Street, 2 street trees

This is a healthy pair of older trees. Southern Magnolias need lots of water, such as from a nearby lawn. If they are not deep watered they can grow large surface roots and cause damage to sidewalks and structures. Evergreen trees, they drop some of their leathery, slow-to-decompose leaves all year long. Southern Magnolias are the most common street tree in Palo Alto.

15. European White Birch (Betula pendula)

~ 165 Bryant Street, many trees in front yard

The bark on the trunk and main limbs of this delicate and lacey tree is white with black clefts. This popular tree needs ample moisture; it does not do well in drought conditions. When it is suffering from lack of water, it begins dying from the top.

16. American Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua)

~ 161 Bryant Street, street tree

This is a particularly large example of a handsome tree that has spectacular fall color. However, American Sweetgums have become an unpopular tree because they are thirsty trees and drop large quantities of seed balls that have sharp spikes and are hard to walk on or cycle over.

17. Paperbark Maple (Acer griseum)

~ 135 Bryant Street, street tree at the corner

The cinnamon-colored bark of this small maple peels in papery strips. It grows to just 25’. Inconspicuous flowers in the spring develop into showy winged seeds and the leaves turn red and orange in the fall. Native to China, it was first collected in the early 1900s by English botanist Ernest Henry Wilson who brought more than 1,000 plants from China, more than any other collector.

18. Coast Live Oak (Quercus agrifolia)

~ 300 Palo Alto Avenue, 2 trees in street

These trees were here long before the road was installed, around 1916. Rather than remove the trees, they paved around which was the practice at the time. However, when automobiles began to run into trees, the City Council proposed to cut down all trees more than one foot from the curb. This turned into a huge civic fight. Although these trees appear healthy, installing pavement is not recommended underneath an oak tree as it causes soil compaction and can damage roots.

19. White Alder (Alnus rhombifolia)

~ 310 Palo Alto Avenue, street tree on far right

A moisture-loving tree that is native to western North America. This one is in a confined site, but moisture from the nearby creek contributes to its good health. It has fruits that resemble small pine cones and remain on the tree for up to a year after releasing their seeds.

20a. Hollywood Juniper (Juniperus chinensis ‘Torulosa’)

~ 320 Palo Alto Avenue, 2 trees at the right front corner of the building and left of the front door

Junipers were very popular landscaping plants in the 1960s, but have fallen out of favor in recent years. Hollywood Junipers are a tree form of juniper that has a windswept form even without the wind. Its twisted form becomes more impressive as it ages.

20b. Flowering Pear (Pyrus calleryana)

~ 320 Palo Alto Avenue, street tree opposite the front door

The Flowering Pear is covered with white blossoms in the spring before leaves form and has reddish leaves in the fall. There are several varieties including ‘Bradford’ and ‘Chanticleer.’ The confined quarters of this tree have caused some of its roots to grow above ground.

21. Fern Pine (Podocarpus gracilior)

~ 374 Palo Alto Avenue, left corner of the house

Sometimes called Afrocarpus elongatus, this evergreen tree is native to eastern Africa and will grow to 60’. It is among the cleanest and most pest-free tree choices and can be grown or trained as a tree, a hedge or a big shrub.

22. Chinese Tallow Tree (Sapium sebiferum)

~ 364 Poe Street, 4 street trees

This attractive deciduous tree with good red fall color is native to China. The waxy coat on the seeds is used in Asia to make candles and soap. The more water it receives, such as from a nearby lawn, the faster, taller, and straighter it grows.

23. Red Horsechestnut (Aesculus x carnea)

~ 101 Waverley Street, second tree from the corner on Palo Alto Avenue

This tree is very striking in bloom with 8” plumes of dark pink flowers covering its rounded canopy. The leaves are composed of 5 dark green leaflets arranged in a fan. Red Horsechestnuts begin to flower when they are about 10 years old.

24. Red Oak (Quercus rubra)

~ 121 Waverley Street, 2 street trees on left

These two deciduous oak trees (one younger than the other) will grow quickly with regular watering. Red Oaks can live up to 180 years and reach up to 120’ in their native environment. Their leaves turn scarlet in cool fall weather. Unlike native California oaks, the Red Oak tolerates watering of grass or plants beneath it.

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Trees protected by the City of Palo Alto tree ordinance

A permit is needed to remove or prune these trees.

Check the City of Palo Alto Tree Regulations.

Trees with low watering needs

These trees are best adapted to our climate and water availability.

Thirsty trees

These trees require frequent summer irrigation, and will suffer from the drought cycle in our area.

Do not plant unless you are aware of a water source such as high water table or creek proximity.

Trees not recommended for planting

These trees are either invasive, do not perform well, or create infrastructure or other problems.

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“You can gauge
a country’s wealth,
its real wealth,
by its tree cover.”
~ Richard St. Barbe Baker
International environmentalist
1889 – 1982

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