Santa Cruz County has a wide assortment of tree species grown and some great examples located in public spaces. Trees are covered like a field guide. Walking and Driving tree tours are listed on the right. I am looking for the best trees in the county. Looking for help? Find a great specimen? Let me know.
Search by common name or tree attributes in the search engine directly below this text.
The Sacred Flower of the Andes is a beautiful but not commonly planted small tree or large shrub growing to 10' tall with a vase or spreading habit. They have a stiff branching pattern with an occasional long branch heading off in some random direction. This cultivar has larger flowers.
Leaves are evergreen, simple, alternate, oval shaped to obovate, 1" long, appearing to be in clusters, where the lateral bud breaks but only produces a few leaves.
Flowers are very attractive, 3" long trumpet shaped, borne in large clusters of a dozen or so. These were blooming in January…..
Can't think of anything. My guess is that lots of Cantua specimens are not 'Hot Lips', as the corolla is supposed to be orangish. Leaves are boxwood like, Buxus sempervirens.
Sydney Golden Wattle is more likely a large shrub but we will consider it a small tree commonly used as a utility tree along freeways. These evergreen trees grow really fast to 20' x 20' with a rounded habit, dense canopy with branches to the ground. The end result is nondescript evergreen screen. Trees become visible as soon as they bloom. Most commonly seen along the freeway.
Leaves are alternate, evergreen, simple, oblanceolate, thick, bright green, no distinct upper or lower surface, more or less 4" long, sometimes slightly curved. Like all simple Acacia leaves, these are phyllodes or flattened petioles.
Stems are thin, green with small rounded vegetative buds.
Older stems are sort of cool looking, nice color and lines on the stems from the buds.
Flowers in mid winter. Flowers are small, yellow, rounded balls of flowers in elongated clusters, fragrant. Bright yellow.
Fruit is a pod, usually twisted.
In bloom, not as likely, the flowers are super bright yellow on an elongated inflorescence.
Most commonly seen on the freeway.
Just below the railroad overpass closest to Rio Del Mar Exit
Along the highway at the old drive in movies, now the swap meet.
The Water Waddle is a fast growing evergreen tree or large shrub reaching 20 x 20' forming a rounded to oval shape, if growing alone, but these seem to be in groves. Makes a nice fine textured screen. Reportedly blooms throughout the season, and called Ever-blooming Acacia.
Leaves are evergreen, alternate, simple, narrowly lanceolate to oblanceolate, slightly curved, dull gray green, no distinct upper or lower surface, slightly enlarged area near the base of the petiole.
Flowers are pale yellow or cream colored, fragrant, in clusters. Clusters (heads) are arranged in racemes with 5-9 heads per inflorescence. Other sites call this the ever-blooming wattle as it may bloom sporadically year round. My pictures are from winter, and only a few branches had flowers.
Fruit is a pod with some restrictions between the seeds. 4-5" long.
Young stems are bright red-mahogony eventually turning gray.
Trunk reportedly scaly at maturity but these trees are pretty young and smooth.
Wirilda Wattle is another common name.
There are two botanical varieties, but they seem to look alike, one preferring wetter soils.
While taking pictures of the flowers one day a neighbor wanted to know what I was doing. After informing him he told me the tree was a black acacia and since he worked for a tree company for 30 years he was sure. But if you step back and look at the leaves, and flowers, he was not far off.
Odd Acacias are tough, helps to see the flowers, pods and leaves.
Harper St. at the east end, past the sign that says private road (oops) across from Daniva Ct. and above all the trash cans.
No doubt about it, I love conifers. I can't have enough, but like most city dwellers, I don't have enough room. So, what does a conifer lover do? Collect dwarf and weeping cultivars. Growth habits available include tiny round balls, low ground covers, upright narrow spires or weeping. Throw in some color variations, yellow, blue or variegated and you have an unlimited assortment available. Collectors can have hundreds of plants in a small amount of space. But you really can't beat the species if you have 10 acres. But that's what botanic gardens are for.
Many people might not have know that the ubiquitous Juniper of the 60's and 70's landscapes is a dwarf form of Juniperus chinensis. Many a front yards were covered with "low" growing Juniperus chinensis 'Pfitzeriana' that eventually out grew their allotted space along the walkways and sidewalks only to be sheered and cursed. We had one across the street that ate our baseballs, and when we are out I had to crawl under the plants looking for a season worth of balls. (I did a quick google street view and they are gone.) This plant was responsible for the dislike of any Juniper by horticulturist, which is to bad. It also has an interesting history and is now recognized as a hybrid, Juniperus xpfitzeriana ‘Wilhelm Pfitzer’.
How are dwarfs produced? There is a great article on the Iseli Nursery webpage so I will offer a shorter version. Most of the variations are the result of genetic mutations and are found either in the field as a bud mutation, a witches brooms or in seed beds of large nurseries. I have found several witches brooms (there is one in Scotts Valley) and in the past sent parts to Iseli Nursery for grafting. One was successfully grafted and on a visit to the nursery I saw "my" 5 plants. They were growing weakly in the bullpen, and did not make the "cut". The specimen they gave me died several years later.
This is Pinus mugo 'Mops' with a witches broom, which will likely become a named cultivar.
Dwarf conifers are slow growing cultivars and usually listed by how large they will be at 10 years old. I have seen some dwarf collections get out of control. In fact, I planted one on the campus of Spokane Community College. It was only a fraction of the plants that came out of the garden of a great friend and master gardener Milo Ball. He asked us to pull some plants because he was selling the house and the realtor suggested he make the landscape look a bit more "normal". We removed over 100 plants and you could not tell!
This is garden after 10 years…. whoops, guess I planted too many in to small of a space.
If you want them to stay small, put them in nice pots, they will stay much smaller than in the ground. Some of the nicest displays I have seen use troughs for pots.
I think I will focus only on those I have seen locally. However, I might throw in some if the species grows successfully here, perhaps to encourage people to try them. They will be arranged alphabetically.
Abies concolor grows very well here, but I have not seen any of the dwarfs planted, or even standard cultivars. Too bad.
Cedrus atlantica 'Glauca Pendula'. Pretty common in SC, this plant is pretty typical, located in Seacliff. Some seem bluer than others. Some nurseries train them upright with twisting stems.
A bit over the top, in Eugene OR. I have seen this approach in several locations, but this one was really well trained.
Chamaecyparis have lots of cultivars, from every species.
Chamaecyparis lawsoniana has produced lots of cultivars, but most of them are color or habit variations of the species and not really dwarfs. Many of the dwarfs are narrow upright growers like 'Ellwoodii' that's pretty common and has its own post.
Chamaecyparis obtusa the Hinoki cypress has developed hundreds of cultivars, many slower growing, some with gold or yellow, some with fern like foliage. In fact I doubt many Hinoki cypress planted in SC are the straight species. One of the more popular cultivars is the yellow foliaged 'Crippsii' seen below lighting up the landscape on a dark rainy day. A bit to the right is another dwarf, but green.
This is Chamaecyparis pisifera filifera 'Aurea Nana'. Long thin thread like branches and all yellow. Might burn in full sun.
Cupressus macrocarpa 'Greenstead Magnificent'
I know of only a few cultivars of our native Monterey cypress and I love this one. Growing 8+ feet wide and at least 2 feet tall, with a blue cast to the foliage and weeping tips. Much of the literature says 6" tall, don't be fooled.
Picea abies 'Pendula' is a great weeping conifer. Several cultivariants here, some growing ever so slightly up and then mostly on the ground…. though I suspect these low growers labeled 'Pendula' but may have come from a cultivar like 'Inversa'. I planted this one to grow over and down this basalt rock. The plant covered an area over 12' x 12' in 8 years.
And then many upright with weeping laterals…… These are from the National Arboretum in DC.
Picea glauca conica is a naturally occurring dwarf form of the white spruce often know as P. glauca albertiana. Many of the them develop shoots that are no longer dwarf and need to be pruned out quickly or they ruin the shape. Most people consider this a cultivar, but I am not sure. Anyway, called the Dwarf Alberta Spruce. There are at least a dozen selections from this that are smaller, bluer, variegated and who knows what else.
Picea omorika 'Pendula Burns', is a wonderful upright weeping tree. Grows beautifully here in SC.
Picea pungens 'Globosa'
Way too many round globes to know for sure, but most likely candidate for the non-serious rare conifer collector. This is at the Missouri Botanic Garden (really nice garden).
Don't know the cultivar on this one but you can find them grafted up high. Not sure what the purpose is, maybe to make the plant look larger in a container? But if I wanted a dwarf, then make it small.
Picea sitchensis 'Papoose'
I have not seen one of these but the species grows well here, keep an eye out for one. We found it marginally hardy in the snow, but you can find full sized specimens in SC.
Pinus densiflora 'Umbraculifera'
The Tanyoso Pine also called the Table Top Pine. Actually gets pretty big, but not for many years. This image is from the Morton Arboretum. Below is one in Aptos.
One of the cool things about this dwarf is the quantify of cones it can produce yearly.
Pinus densi-thunbergii 'Jane Kluis' is an awesome dwarf pine. A hybrid cultivar growing slowly with a flat top and rounded shape. This plant has japanese black pine genes so it grows well here.
Pinus mugo mugo is very commonly in our landscapes, you just have to look down rather than up.Perhaps the most common dwarf conifer besides the junipers. All over the place and all over the place on height and width. There must be 50 cultivars of this plant, P. mugo pumilo is very common. 'Mops' is pretty common. I doubt I could name any of them in the landscape, unless its one of the really odd ones.
There are also many very dwarf selections like my favorite, 'Mitch's Mini'.
Pinus nigra 'Thunderhead' is a great dwarf form of the Austrian Pine. It features slower growth and large white winter buds contrasting with dark green leaves. Can easily be kept below 10' so you can see the buds.
This is Sequoiadendron giganteum 'Pendulum'. Like many cultivars with pendula in the name, this cultivar has pendulous lateral branches but can grow sideways as well.
Thuja orientalis 'Aurea Nana' and its slight variations are everywhere in town. I have already shown some pictures of this and its assorted cultivars, but I will include them here as well. Old school plant, very common in 70's style landscapes. Pretty classic sight, there is a front door in there somewhere. Dwarf means slow growing…...
Tsuga canadensis 'Pendula' was a shock to see in a garden recently. I have not seen one Hemlock tree in 10 years while living in SC. I do like them, they have a very soft texture, and small leaves like a fir tree. So this is what they can look like, at Wisley Garden, but below is the one I saw……give it 20 years….
One problem identifying dwarf conifer clones is they will look different on different rootstocks. Many are propagated via grafting and propagators use different rootstocks. For example, putting a japanese white pine clone on 4 different white pine species will result in different growth rates and eventually a different looking plant. The former propagation manager at Isley Nursery told me they called them Cultivariants. I recall an article in a conifer periodical showing the results of this situation. The goal of a nursery is to produce the plants via cuttings, which results in almost identical plants.
The Knobcone Pine is a California native conifer closely related to the Monterey Pine and will hybridize in overlapping native stands. Often seen as a single stemmed tree, one of the most obvious features to me is its commonly seen multi-stemmed habit. The trees prefer poor sandy soils and will likely reach 30-50' tall. The most recognizable features are the clusters of long lasting cones and groves of all the same age due to their dependance on fire to open the cones.
Leaves are evergreen, needle shaped, 3 needles per cluster, medium green or yellowish green, straight or twisted, slender but stiff, lasting 4-5 years, 3-1/2 to 6" long.
Stems reddish brown, not thick, not thin.
Long terminal bud, most likely going to develop female cones.
Cones 4-6" long, in whorls of 4-5, conical but asymmetrical, yellowish brown, hard, and heavy. The scales are tipped with prickles that are long on the tops of the cone but do not elongate on the cone side closest to the stem. Cones very persistent and do not open without the heat of fire. (Other closed cone pines do open with high heat after some years).
You can see the color, the pitch, and the asymmetrical shape. You can also see the shape of the scales at the top of the cone, larger, verses the ones on the lower edge, more compressed. While the picture below is too close to the branch, you can also get a sense of how many cones are produced in one area.
Here is somewhat of a close up of the scales with hooks.
Bark is thin, brown to gray, with thin fissures showing some reddish color.
Pinus radiata for sure. They are both 3 needle pines, with variable color leaves and asymmetrical cones, though these have cones that remain on the tree forever, and have pointed hooks on the ends of the scales. The growth habit is also very different.
Other 3 needle pines in our area: P. attenuata, Knobcone Pine is native to the northern county and can be seen in UCSC wild areas. Cones are very different, in large clusters on the main stems and held for years. P. canariensis, much longer softer needles, longer cones, much fuller habit but more or less the same overall shape but way full. P. coulteri, longer bluer leaves, more stiff and dont seem to droop on the stems, not as restricted to the ends of the branches as they last 3-4 years. Much broader habit. There are some around. P. jefferyi, the cones are different in that the prickle on the scale is curved inward and will not stick you and you will not likely see one in SC. P. radiata, dark green leaves, shorter and softer cones without curved hooks.
There was one at Cabrillo, but it came down.
Empire Grade at the enter section with Felton Empire Rd and Ice Cream Grade. Actually they are all along Empire Grade well past UCSC.