Monday, August 5, 2013

Flora of Eagle Rock: Canary Island Pine, or Pinus canariensis

On Dahlia
If you're like I was before writing this post, you have a vague idea as to the location of the Canary Islands.  Somewhere off the coast of Spain.  Maybe near the island of Mallorca?  Or is that the wrong side?  The Canaries are in the Atlantic, right?

The long needles of the tree help capture moisture from mist and fog; the water then drips to the ground, is absorbed by the soil, and then eventually makes its way into aquifers.  This moisture-capture feature of the tree has played a vital role in maintaining the water supply of the Canaries.

The Canary Islands, I learned while looking up the Canary Island Pine, or Pinus canariensis, are located just off the coast of Morocco, near the border with Western Sahara.  (And here I have to admit that I had no idea that there was a country called Western Sahara bordering Morocco.)  How these islands off the coast of Africa came to be part of Spain is a long story.  In any event, this tree is native to the Canaries.

The tree is highly adaptable and very drought-tolerant.  These qualities have made it a successful import in Australia, South Africa, and California, where it is a popular street tree.  You see these trees, which can grow to eighty feet or more, all over Eagle Rock.  You also see their large cones all over the place.

Interesting historical note: the Canary Islands take their name from the Latin word for dog: canis.  "According to the historian Pliny the Elder, the Mauretanian king Juba II named the island Canaria because it contained 'vast multitudes of dogs of very large size.'"  Wikipedia.  Also, the name of the islands doesn't derive from the bird of the same name; in fact, it's the other way around, with the bird getting its name from the island.  Id.  So, etymologically speaking, canary yellow is really dog yellow.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Flora of Eagle Rock: Coast Live Oak, or Quercus agrifolia

Coast Live Oak on Mt. Royal, near Hill

The Coast Live Oak, or Quercus agrifolia, is native to California.  More specifically, it's native to a region known as the California Floristic Province, which Wikipedia describes as "a floristic province with a Mediterranean climate located on the Pacific Coast of North America with a distinctive flora that bears similarities to floras found in other regions experiencing a winter rainfall, summer drought climate like the Mediterranean Basin."

You can usually identify the tree by the bark, which I can best describe as being in high relief, with a deeply craggy, almost stony look to it.  The leaves are relatively small, roundish, and dull (i.e., not glossy).

Detail of leaves.

The genus name, Quercus, is simply Latin for "oak."  Interestingly, the oak genus is native to North America -- though the oak became the national tree of, among other places, Germany, England, Poland, and Serbia.  Apparently, Congress also designated the oak as our national tree in 2004.  I don't think that got much press.

The Spanish names for the Coast Live Oak are encino(a) and encinitas ("little oaks").   And that's where the names for Encino and Encinitas came from.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Flora of Eagle Rock: Camphor tree, or Cinnamomum camphora

Man praying at a camphor tree at a Shinto shrine in Japan.  [Photo via Dara in Japan]
An Irishman visiting Japan describes his experience of watching people engage the spirits of sacred 400-year-old camphor trees (Cinnamomum camphora) at a Shinto shrine:
Sometimes you see a person engaging the spirit of a sacred tree. They approach the tree, clap their hands together twice, and then lean towards the tree and stand for a while with their hands pressed against the bark. Having watched these people and become curious, I have tried it myself. People laugh at tree-huggers, but there is no denying the sense of power and calm that comes from touching a great old tree.
[Dara in Japan.]  You may recall a somewhat similar scene of revering the 神 kami [god-like spirit] that dwells in these ancient trees from My Neighbor Totoro.
Engaging the spirit of an ancient camphor tree's kami in My Neighbor Totoro.  [Via Thirteens Atlas]
The largest known camphor tree in Japan, named 蒲生の大楠 (kamou no ookusu : giant camphor tree of Kamou), is located at the Kamou Shrine in Kagoshima prefecture.  It is believed to be between 1500-3000 years old.  Id.

We have our own stand of these revered trees in Eagle Rock, on Shearin Avenue:
Camphor trees along Shearin Avenue
The camphor tree is native to China south of the Yangtze River, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam.  [Wikipedia.]  The Chinese character used for the tree in China, Taiwan, Japan (and older Chinese-character based versions of Korean and Vietnamese) is  or   (pronounced zhang or nán in Mandarin, jeong or naam in Cantonese,   [jang] or   [nam] in Korean, nam or nêm in Vietnamese, andくす [kusu] in Japanese).
On Shearin
Beyond its status as a sacred tree host to kami, the camphor tree holds a special place for the Japanese, as a symbol of survival:
[C]amphor trees are not only long-lived, but they are also astonishingly vigorous and capable of surviving even the worst that man can throw at them. A specimen at the Sanno Shrine in Nagasaki was designated a natural monument by that city on Feb. 15, 1969, because it had survived the U.S. atomic bombing of Aug. 9, 1945. Then, on Nov. 3, 1973, the camphor tree was made the official tree of Hiroshima to commemorate those trees that not only survived the U.S. atomic bombing of the city on Aug. 6, 1945, but then recovered quickly and gave inspiration to the people trying to rebuild their lives.
[Japan Times.]
Under the camphor canopy
Ivy climbing  and coating camphor tree

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Flora of Eagle Rock: Cedrus deodara, or the Deodar tree

The Deodar, breathing at night, and dreaming of its Himalayan home.

The Deodar tree, or Cedrus deodara, (also called the Deodar Cedar), is, like so many of us, far from home.  The tree, which has a distinctly alpine look to it -- a look that seems slightly out of place next to Mexican fan palms -- is native to the western Himalayas, in eastern Afghanistan, northern Pakistan, northern India, southwestern Tibet, and western Nepal.  Its native habitat is relatively high: 4,921–10,499 ft.

Deodar, flanked by Mexican fan palms, north of Colorado

The tree is sacred in Hinduism.  "Deodar" comes from from the Sanskrit term devadāru, which means "wood of the gods" (deva (god, divine, deity; cf. deus) + dāru (wood; cf. durum, druid, true)).   Ancient Hindu epics apparently frequently mention Darukavana -- forests of deodars -- as sacred places.

Row of Deodars on Dahlia
When I first saw deodars scattered throughout the neighborhood, I thought it was a bit odd: what were these alpine-looking trees doing in Southern California?  The trees were brought over to Britain from the Himalayas in the 19th century, became ornamental favorites in English gardens, and spread from there.  The adaptability of the tree is remarkable.  It's gone from the snowy foothills of the Himalayas to the 100-degree summers of our neighborhood.  The tree has been spread throughout Europe, and along the west coast and southwest of the U.S.

Detail with incipient cones.

Deodar in the California morning sun.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Flora of Eagle Rock: Sweet orange, or Citrus sinensis

Orange tree on Hill Drive
The history of the orange tree -- specifically, the sweet orange, or Citrus sinensis, -- reads like a miniature history of the world.  The tree appears to have been domesticated in Asia, Southeast Asia, and/or South Asia roughly 2500 years ago.  It seems clear that widespread domestication of the tree first took place in China.  (Indeed, the sinensis in the species name means "Chinese.")  From Asia, the fruit was brought back to Europe, by various means, including the Silk Road, trade with Arabs, crusades, etc. -- the history of its introduction to Europe seems a bit murky.

The orange was spread from Europe to the Americas by the Spanish.  Columbus brought orange seeds over to North America in 1493.  The first orange orchard in California was reportedly planted by Spanish missionaries at Mission San Gabriel in 1804.  [Wikipedia.]

The origin of the term "orange" in English ultimately links back to the Sanskrit word for "orange tree" (नारङगम्, nāraṅga).  The Sanskrit word came through Persian نارنگ (nārang) and its Arabic derivative نارنج (nāranj). The word entered Late Middle English in the fourteenth century via Old French orenge (from pomme d'orenge).  The French word, in turn, comes from Old Provençal auranja, based on Arabic nāranj -- which goes back to the Sanskrit.  [Id.]  (The French word presumably came over into English when William the Bastard led the Norman invasion of England in 1066 and William got to change his name to William the Conqueror.)

Because Portuguese merchants were among the first to introduce the sweet orange in Europe, in several European languages the fruit was named for the Portuguese: e.g., Albanian portokall, Bulgarian портокал (portokal), Greek πορτοκάλι (portokali), modern Persian پرتقال (porteghal), and Romanian portocală.  Related names show up in other languages, such as Arabic البرتقال (bourtouqal), Georgian ფორთოხალი (p'ort'oxali), and Turkish portakal.  Various Slavic languages use the variants pomaranč (Slovak), pomeranč (Czech), pomaranča (Slovene), and pomarańcza (Polish) -- all from Old French pomme d'orenge.  [Id.]

Orange is arancione in Italian, l'orange in French, and naranja in Spanish -- the last of which is strikingly similar to the Sanskrit.  The orange is known as "Chinese apple" in the Germanic languages: e.g.,  sinaasappel and appelsien (Dutch),  Apfelsine (German), appelsin (Danish).  Interestingly, the connection to China also appears in the Puerto Rican Spanish word for orange: china.  [Id.]

There is no word in English that rhymes with "orange."

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Flora of Eagle Rock: Agave americana, or the century plant

Agave americana in inflorescence
The Agave americana, sometimes called the century plant, maguey, or the American aloe, goes out with a bang.  After living an uneventful life looking like a relatively normal, unassuming desert plant for ten to twenty years, it dramatically signals the end of its life cycle by storing energy and resources to produce, very quickly, a towering stalk with flowering branches.  (Hence the somewhat misleading name "century plant.")  The stalk that the plant suddenly throws up is like a radio tower of sorts.  The plant tries to shoot up the stalk as high as possible, for the widest possible dispersal of its seeds, which are often spread by the wind.  After it flowers and disseminates its seeds, the plant dies.

First drafts of our own future inflorescence?
The agave's life cycle pretty much tracks the plot line of any escape-from-dying-Earth sci-fi.  Earth is used up and done, so humans must pool our remaining resources to flee.  We make one last push, with our remaining resources, to build a massive vehicle to escape, spreading ourselves with the solar wind.  The agave has already shown us how it's done.  When it reaches the end, it makes the big push, saying, more or less: "Let's get off this rock!" 

Artist's rendering of potential solar-sail dissemination

Flora of Eagle Rock: Melaleuca leucadendron, or the weeping paperbark

Melaleuca trees on Hill

There's a row of five or six strange, ancient-looking trees on Hill Drive, near Eagle Vista.  These trees have a very distinctive white bark, that looks as if it's composed of hundreds of paper-like layers, all in a state of constant eruption and peeling.  (See below.)  The trees looked familiar to me.  They had small leaves, and the bark looked like something I had seen in the Australian section of the Los Angeles Arboretum.  A woman was watering her plants at one of the houses behind this row of trees.  I asked her if she knew what kind of trees they were.  She said they were Melaleuca trees.  I asked if they were from Australia.  She said that sounded right.

I've tentatively identified these trees as Melaleuca leucadendron.  I thought they were possibly  Melaleuca quinquenervia, but they seem a bit to tall for that species.  Melaleuca quinquenervia apparently tops out around 25 feet.  These trees on Hill Drive are much taller than that.  The species in the genus are native to Australia.  A cousin of the species on Hill is the species commonly known as the tea tree, from which tea tree oil is obtained.

detail of the leucadendron

The name "Melaleuca" comes from the Greek, a combination of "black" and "white," which apparently refers to other species in the genus.  "Leucadendron," you can probably guess at, now knowing that "leuca" means white.  "Dendron" also comes from the Greek, for tree.  So this is the "white tree" in the Melaleuca genus, for obvious reasons: its distinctive, perpetually peeling chalky-white bark.  This tree is apparently also sometimes called the weeping paperbark, and it does seem to have a slightly weeping quality to it.

The bark on these trees is incredible.  The trees look as if they were never young.  The trunks look like you could just peel away layer after layer, and just keep going like that, until everything was gone.  They're reminiscent of some kind of flaky Turkish or Greek dessert.  (Maybe I'm thinking of phyllo -- which is Greek for "leaf" -- as in a leaf of paper.)  They bring to mind ancient, rotting manuscripts, written in lost languages

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Flora of Eagle Rock: Mexican fan palm

Mexican fan palm, or Washingtonia robusta, at night -- near Loleta
The Mexican fan palm, or Washingtonia robusta, the tall, skinny palm tree that lines Hill Drive and so many other parts of Los Angeles, is reaching the end of its time in our city.

The trees, which are native to parts of California, and western Sonora and Baja California Sur in northwestern Mexico, were planted throughout Los Angeles prior to the 1932 Olympic Games, to help beautify the city and as a Depression-era unemployment relief program.

Many of the trees planted during the 30's are reaching the end of their life-spans.  The City of Los Angeles has stated that it will not be replacing the palms with new palms as they die off, but instead with other trees, such as oaks and sycamores, which offer more shade, absorb more pollution, and require less water.  Our current mayor, Eric Garcetti, came out years ago against the continued cultivation of the Mexican fan palm in the city.

In the future, the tall, skinny palms will likely be remembered as symbols of the twentieth-century glamour of Hollywood, part of a bygone era and landscape.

Mexican fan palms near Dahlia

Friday, July 5, 2013

Flora of Eagle Rock: crape myrtle

Crape myrtle, or lagerstroemia on La Roda
The crape myrtle, or lagerstroemia (for Magnus Lagerström, a Swedish naturalist), is a genus containing many species of deciduous and evergreen trees and shrubs native to the Indian Subcontinent, southeast Asia, northern Australia and parts of Oceania.  The tree is pretty common in Eagle Rock.  You can identify it by the unusual bark, which looks as if an outer covering has peeled off, leaving exposed a smooth, pale wood.  The crape myrtle has a long-lasting flower; the species prevalent in Eagle Rock tends to have a deep pink or magenta flower (as pictured below).  They're in bloom right now throughout the neighborhood.

Lagerstroemia in bloom with the hills of Eagle Rock Hillside Park in the background