Before the City of Palo Alto was incorporated and heavily populated, it was dominated by grassy fields interspersed with native oaks. Other native species also grew along the creeks including a few redwoods. Palo Alto is named for a tree: El Palo Alto is a 110′ tall, 1,100 year-old coast redwood. In the 1890s early advocates and resident activists of Palo Alto, built sidewalks and planted the city’s initial tree canopy, establishing the city’s landmark tree-lined streets. Members of the Palo Alto Women’s Club carried milk cans full of water in horse-drawn buggies to irrigate trees they planted alongside dirt roads.
Today the City of Palo Alto grows and cares for approximately 36,000 city-owned urban trees. Canopy is an independent nonprofit that supports the City of Palo Alto and its residents in caring for urban trees.
The Palo Alto urban forest benefits from the vision of the community and its leaders who value and fund a well-developed urban forestry program. The city has certified arborists on its staff. Palo Alto has been a Tree City USA, since 1986.
In early 2010, work began on the city’s new state-of-the-art street and park tree inventory with geo-positioning. This inventory will be integrated into the city’s street tree management system and the city’s Geographical Information System (GIS.) The new inventory and its analysis will provide city staff the tools to develop a new street tree management plan to ensure that a healthy, functional, species-diverse, multi-aged canopy will be in place to benefit the community well into the future. Canopy played an important role in identifying state grants and helping the city apply for and obtain them to provide for the majority of this project’s funding.
Residents are responsible for trees growing on their own private property, or privately-owned trees. Trees growing on public property or in a street right-of-way are city-owned trees. Certain protected trees, even if they are on private property, are maintained by the City of Palo Alto and are subject to city regulations.
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Palo Alto’s native oaks are a beautiful part of the City’s heritage. Many are older than the city itself. When founded, Canopy did a city-wide ‘OakWell’ inventory of nearly 7,500 coast live oaks and 1,400 valley oaks. As a result we can now gauge the well-being of these special trees.