Tree tourism

A dear friend asked me last summer what my favorite tree is. I think of her question often, especially when I’ve found some new tree (new to me anyway). Is this new tree my favorite? Or is there one from home that’s irreplaceable in my heart? I’m never quite sure of the answer, and it probably changes with the seasons.

One of my favorite parts of traveling somewhere new is taking along a camera to capture memories of the place to take home with me. And I especially love photographing new or strange trees.

This past weekend found me in Santa Barbara, California, with its juxtaposition of native desert plants and tropical plants that require a lot of irrigation to thrive. I came across several fun trees, and I wanted to share a few of them with you here.

On our way from LA to Santa Barbara, we stopped in at Cal Tech to visit a friend there. She took us around campus, and I fell in love with the jacaranda trees for their beautiful, purple blooms. Apparently they grow in Florida, too, but I guess I’ve never visited Florida at the right time to notice them blooming.

Jacaranda trees on Cal Tech’s campus

At the Santa Barbara Courthouse (well-worth touring if you’re there, by the way), there’s this funny-looking tree:

Indian Laurel Fig or Bunya-Bunya tree?

The tour guide called it a Bunya-Bunya tree, but the sign at its base says its an Indian Laurel Fig (part of the Ficus family of trees). After some very quick Internet research, I’m sticking with the sign and calling it an Indian Laurel Fig. But if you know otherwise, please let me know.

At Casa del Herrero, the landscape is divided into different types of gardens, mostly formal and lush. One of the gardens, though, is called the “Arizona Gardens,” a xeriscape garden full of native desert plants. It contains some of the oldest trees on the property, Dragon Blood trees, thought to be several hundred years old. To me it looks like yucca plants stuck on top of some very interesting tree trunks.

Large, established trees such as this Dragon Blood tree were important to the nouveau riche who wanted their estates to look like they came from old money.

The final tree on my visit, a Moreton Bay Fig, dominates the cemetery at Santa Barbara’s Mission:

Moreton Bay Fig

The Moreton Bay fig was bearing dark purple figs, not that much larger than you might find on a normal-sized fig tree, and we kept walking on little piles of dried fig droppings under this tree.

I don’t like climbing trees, but this one practically begged to be climbed, hence the need for a sign:

A hard sign to miss, but also a hard sign to obey

I’d be hard-pressed to pick a favorite from these trees on my trip to California. Each one is breathtaking and beautiful and even a little strange. I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to travel to a place so different from home, where I could discover these strange, new trees.

But I have to admit: I’m happy to back home among the pines and oak trees and magnolias and crepe myrtle.

Do you have a favorite tree?
I know at least a few of you who read this blog must love trees, and maybe you have a favorite one? If so, what is it? Are there unique trees where you live that visitors remark on because they’re so unusual? Is there a tree that always makes you feel like you’re “home”?

4 thoughts on “Tree tourism

  1. Love the jacarandas as well, became enchanted with them and their amazing purple blooms during a So. CA visit as well! Have never noticed them back east either. Also you should check out the ginko with it’s fan-shaped leaves. Several grow in downtown Raleigh near the capital. And yes I still climb trees, even after getting stuck in a tree as a child of the 60s. My ever calm mom and auntie Nelda (next door neighbor) talked me down.

    • You’re braver than I am! I always wished for the courage to climb trees but was not a very coordinated child (adulthood hasn’t added much in that area). Gingko trees definitely have neat leaves.
      Maybe jacarandas only grow in the southernmost part of Florida. My dad remembers seeing them there.

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