Plenty of people talk about how to address climate change. Trees are actively doing something about it. So, for this Earth Day, we thought we would ask our readers to submit stories and photographs of their favorite Berkeley trees.
Partly, we were inspired by Tree of the Year, an annual competition from the Czech Republic that scours Europe for “trees with the strongest story.” We were also inspired by a news article from Melbourne, Australia, where the city assigned trees serial numbers and email addresses, ostensibly so residents could report problems. Instead, people wrote love letters.
But mostly, we were inspired by the trees themselves. The ones in our yards, along streets, in parking lots, on campus, at the marina, in the parks and open-space preserves of the Berkeley Hills. Native and non-native species. Oaks, maples, eucalyptus, ironwoods, buckeyes and many others.
We were hoping readers would submit not only the most majestic or aesthetically pleasing of Berkeley’s trees, but also those with stories. We were not disappointed. And, happily, there is a good deal of overlap between the beautiful and the “story-ful” when it comes to trees.
Our readers have deeply personal, even possessive, feelings towards their own favorites. They look forward to seeing them, find meaning in their growth, mark how they change with the seasons, and, when a beloved one dies, they mourn its passing. They refer to them not just as ‘a tree’ or ‘that tree’, but their tree.
My own favorite Berkeley tree is — alas! — no more: a live oak that sprouted from within the hollow shaft of a street sign on Bancroft Way. Aesthetically, it didn’t look like much. Its form could best be described as a shrub on a stick. But there was something mysterious — even heroic — about it. Just how did it get down there? A windstorm? A wayward squirrel? Someone waiting on the no. 36 bus with some time and an acorn to spare? Through how many seasons had that tree quietly stretched upwards, encased in metal, until it could finally, about eight feet up, branch out the top?
Then the old street sign was removed and, with it, the tree. Eventually the sign was replaced, but the live oak never was. It wasn’t a particularly impressive specimen. Not the kind of tree that inspires poets and plaques. But it mattered to me. When it was gone, I noticed. And while what replaced it is certainly useful — a sign and schedule for the AC transit system — that particular spot doesn’t stir me with affection and wonder anymore. Now it’s just another place to catch the bus.
Of course, I have other favorites, and we at Berkeleyside have enjoyed the chance to read about some of yours, to find new ones, and even new meanings in ones already known. How your own favorite trees communicate lessons, offer refuge, serve as climbing gyms, and how specific individuals become so familiar they nearly assume personalities, turning from landmarks into neighbors.
Even if trees are not often seen as part of a city’s infrastructure the way roads, schools, healthcare and other services are, they seem nonetheless to inspire a great deal of civic pride. Portland, Oregon, keeps a list of heritage trees. Baltimore, Maryland, maintains a registry of notable trees. And Santa Barbara has its own tree of the month. Who knows? Maybe one day Berkeley will have something similar.
Trees can seem almost incidental, and yet are fundamental to urban areas. They make a city work because they make residents care about their city. They lend calm and character in ways that pavement, plumbing and electrical lines — however useful and abundant — just don’t. Whoever wrote a poem for a favorite utility pole?
Gina Gold: Here’s one of my favorite trees in Berkeley. I fell in love with it several years ago when I was wandering through the Claremont area, close to Claremont Creek. I call it the embracing tree because the branches are so intertwined. It inspired me to do a whole picture book of trees for my grandchildren.
828 Contra Costa Avenue
Bob Johnson: My favorite Berkeley tree is this aged live oak tree (probably one of the oldest in the city) in front of 828 Contra Costa Ave. It looks like something happened to the central trunk years ago and the main branches bulked up and took over so that it has a rather Herculean look about it. It is of course native and an impressive representative of what was here many years ago before the coming of European settlers.
Outside the Brazilian Room, Tilden Park
Eva Zimmerman: Cherry blossom trees have always held a special place in my heart. With blooming periods that last just a couple of weeks out of the year, they represent the shortness and beauty of life.
Born and raised in Berkeley, I moved to Washington DC when I was 10. DC is famous for the Cherry Blossom Festival each spring and the cherry trees that surround the Tidal Basin there are unforgettable. I moved home to Berkeley after college and fell in love with my Berkeley born and raised husband here. We chose the Brazilian Room in Tilden for our wedding in 2014 for many reasons: our countless hikes in Tilden, the building’s architecture, the views — but, for me, especially, it was the two cherry trees that greet you as you walk towards the entrance.
It was a wild guess what date to choose when choosing our wedding date a year in advance, as peak bloom varies year to year. But we chose March 23, 2014 on a whim. And, of course, the trees were at peak bloom that day. Fast forward to four years later, pregnant with our baby girl, we drove up to the Brazilian Room the day after my due date to take a walk there and the two spectacular trees greeted us again in full bloom, the bees were so happy. I went into labor the next morning.
UC Berkeley campus
Carey Pelton: This tree is located on the university campus near Giannini Hall. I call it “Autumn in Berkeley.” I took this photo on a rainy day in 2010. The tree has subsequently been reduced in size due to age. What a beauty!
Acton Street between Hearst and Berkeley Way
Sandra Ayer: I love the eucalyptus trees along Acton near the BART. I took this picture of one of the eucalyptus trees there and softened it a bit. I noticed that it reminded me of a Monet painting. I posted the photo a detail of a Monet painting on my Facebook page, and people weren’t sure which was which.
Private residence, Berkeley hills
Jennifer Lombardi: This is in my front yard in the Berkeley hills. We were told it’s called a “smoke tree” although not sure it’s real name. When it’s in bloom and the fog or dew settles on it, it gets this smoke effect. But in the winter, it’s quite bare and can look dead.
West Berkeley, near Acton and Allston
Candy McKane: There once was a tree in Berkeley, and it housed the “bestest” squirrels and the red-billed woodpecker. Peck, peck, peck, hiiiiiiiiii it said. And this is why I love this tree in Berkeley. Not sure if it’s just the tree that’s fake redwood, or something like that. But one of my favorite trees.
Berkeley High School
Hasmig Minassian: Berkeley High has a pulse. Anyone who walks around here all day feels it. It’s the thunder of 3,500 people moving their feet, exercising their minds, developing their souls. It is easy enough to keep your head down and motor impatiently through wanting answers to questions not yet asked.
Enter, my tree.
Though I’ve stomped this concrete for 18 years, it’s only been in the last three that I have decided to slow down and see what is growing in my vicinity. In the front courtyard, nestled between the historic “C” building and the iconic Community Theater, is a patch of trees symmetrically planted in beautiful brick. I am certain when they were brought from the nursery, they were indistinguishable. But in the near decade since their planting, they have each grown and bloomed at their own pace.
I favor the second from the left. She is majestic and stands tall, broad reaching branches almost touching her neighbors, but not quite. She does not eagerly blossom too soon in the spring and she stubbornly holds on to her leaves with Berkeley’s late autumn heat. And, in the dead of winter, when I am darting across that courtyard escaping raindrops and chasing time, her branches drip drip drip with a beauty that forces me to slow and steady myself, giving thanks for the patience we learn from the trees.
MJ Bogatin: The walk down Woolsey to Ashby BART features the perfect tree. I do not know what kind it is other than it’s an evergreen. But it is a perfect green triangle — from every side. Like the picture of an animal that looks stuffed, but always pointing north.
Indian Rock Park, Cragmont Park
Scott Page: Most people pay little attention to the pair of eucalyptus trees adjacent to Indian Rock and its spectacular views of the bay. Should these splendid, non-native trees vanish, however, the feel of park would be diminished.
Scott Page: Cragmont Park’s laurel tree is tucked behind the stone clad park service building near the park entrance. It is a perfect marriage of rock and tree. Even in the most gentle breeze from the Bay, laurel leaves will find a way to dance.
815 Shattuck Avenue
Ian Agol: I’ve admired this oak tree for years. It reminds me of a bonsai, and is surprising that it flourishes growing on top of a rock.
Jennifer Yates: This tree is in Cesar Chavez Park. I love to walk under the tree’s arch and see what birds are hanging out, how the backdrop of the sky changes with the time of day and seasons.
North Berkeley Library
Darlene Basmajian: This stand of trees right outside the North Berkeley library has supported hundreds of climbing children through the years, including my now 27-year-old daughter Sophie.
913 Virginia Street
Susan McKay: 6 120′ tall Lombardy Poplar trees host winter birds.
Oh oak tree, so lovely, filtering the light
Greeting campus visitors to such a delight
But what I really love to see
When I commute to UC Berkeley
Is the motley line of trees, such a sight
John Hinkel Park, Shorebird Nature Center, San Pablo Park
Ian Kesterson: The grove of coast live oak (Quercus agrifolia) up at John Hinkel Park always gets me going. Right after taking the job as an arborist for the City of Berkeley I fell head over heels in love with every tree around. However, I have spent countless hours sitting under this grove of a hundred or so naturally growing oaks, listening to their leaves chatter with the wind. I often throw up a rope and climb in the tree tops to quietly join the conversation with the creatures and the breeze and some of Berkeley’s best views.
Ian Kesterson: California has embraced trees from all around the world in the process of creating its urban forest. Palms (Africa), the California pepper (Peru), citrus (Asia) have become just as American as the tumbleweed (Russia). But it is our Australian and New Zealander friends that make up the true backbone of Californian landscape. My favorite Australian in Berkeley is a drooping melaleuca / Melaleuca armillaris at the Shorebird Nature Center at the Berkeley Waterfront. Trees always grow to suit their environment and this tree knows the rules, growing sideways and meandering along the ground for the kids to climb all around.
Ian Kesterson: Tough trees from California-like climates around the world are filling our urban forests with the climate-change ready and street tough trees we’re all going to need. I planted this Persian ironwood / Parrotia persica (aren’t these leaves awesome!?) at San Pablo Park with a group of Cal students, where I have planted many of our trees of the future. This tree stands for a smart step we are taking over the next generation of urban forest design. As we begin to develop our urban forest with a new level of strategy and intention the best step is to look at what has worked in the past and what has delivered challenges. Even our “hard” trees offer so many benefits. Still, if I can grow the tree of tomorrow that gives us the shade and oxygen and beauty we love, AND have it take less water and add diversity, all while planting it in an optimized site that reduces infrastructure conflict and maximizes storm water absorption benefits through good design!… well we get excited pretty quick over here trying to green the world.
Sharon Hern: I would like to nominate the Japanese Maple living in front of this home in the Elmwood. The couple who own the home have lived there for 46 years and are master gardeners, and their garden reflects it. This tree was already here when they moved in and the home is over 80 years old, so it is possible the tree could be reaching that age. They have taken such great care to keep this tree magnificent. I took this photo in March and of course the tree is not in full leaf but you can still see how stunning it is.
Nicola Bourne: My favorite tree is a lager muskogee std 15, which is now in its second year. It was planted to replace a very weak, ill-pruned sapling that was planted with three other sturdy ones in the immediate area during the drought. Only one managed to survive and continued to flourish, although I watered each one regularly. I was in contact with Betsy, the city arborist, about the ongoing situation. I was surprised and delighted to see when the healthy new sapling was planted. Having benefited from two rainy seasons, I’m hoping it will go on to thrive as a little part of my neighborhood long after I’ve departed Berkeley. In the meantime, I urge everyone who lives near a sapling that the city plants to take a little time to water it because the city doesn’t do that.
Euclid Avenue and Eunice Street
Pam and Elmer Grossman: This California buckeye at the corner or Euclid and Eunice is a tree of four acts. The current act, playing now, is quiet, just fresh spring leaves still maturing. The second act will explode with a massive bloom of honey fragrant white blooms lasting for weeks. Then the third act will follow slowly as the flowers fall, the large seeds form and the leaves dry. In the final act the leaves fall and the tree’s strong frame is revealed during the winter months.
Clark Kerr campus
Mara Melandry: These pictures are of the dawn redwood. Unlike our native redwoods, the dawn redwood is deciduous. The one with the red leaves is from the fall and the one without leaves is from the winter. When it is leafed out in the spring it is a beautiful apple green.
Bonita Street, the Cheese Board, Safeway, Shattuck
Barnali Ghosh: The iconic palms on Bonita Street — so out of place, and still so Berkeley.
Barnali Ghosh: This tree in front of Cheese Board Collective looks like any other. But with the full moon behind, accentuating its twists and turns, it takes on a heavenly form.
Barnali Ghosh: This tree, probably a western redbud, though lovely throughout the year, takes on an ethereal pink glow in the spring. It stands silently in the corner of the North Berkeley Safeway parking lot, in a bio-retention planter, to clean and contain the rain, and looking real good while working real hard.
Barnali Ghosh: The rows of ginkgo on Shattuck Avenue along Saul’s and Safeway are a source of joy in all seasons. In the fall, however, the leaves on the ground make a drab gray sidewalk bloom with sunshine.
Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park
Roxanne Schwartz: My favorite tree is in Civic Center Park on the north side of Allston, between Milvia and Martin Luther King Jr. Way. It embodies elegance and balance and always inspires appreciation on my daily to and fro from the Y. (I Photoshopped out the parked cars.)
Indian Rock, UC Berkeley campus
Penny Brogden: This coast live oak is growing out of Indian Rock. Native to the area, it seems to thrive here in what might seem an unlikely spot.
Penny Brogden: This old buckeye tree stands near the entrance to UC Berkeley Faculty Club. I have passed by and admired its perseverance for 40 years. When you see it without its leaves, you would swear that it had died. It had a gnarled trunk with holes that had been hollowed out.
I passed it today (March 28) and there it was in glorious full leaf! The sprouts have grown over the years into good-sized branches and the trunk still stands upright and proud.
Nancy Rubin: A favorite street in Berkeley is Mariposa Avenue because of its canopy of trees. This particular day, the light at dusk enhanced the beauty of these magnificent trees.