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California Native Plant Society

Santa Clara Valley Chapter

Locally Native Trees for Landscaping

Locally Native Trees to Plant at Your School or Home

By Jeff Caldwell

With the possible exception of the coast redwood and white alder, most of our locally native trees deserve to be cultivated more often in the San Francisco Bay area. Many are beautiful and easy to grow--they are well adapted to our climate and soils. Native trees offer special values for wildlife as well.

Big-leaf maple is a very attractive species, and also fast growing--it deserves a place in more landscapes.

The gray pine is a quite ornamental tree in cultivation and more drought tolerant and more resistant to air pollution than most pines.

Contrary to general opinion, the valley oak and coast live oak, two beautiful heritage species, grow fairly quickly and are easy to cultivate. While ancient trees which grew to maturity under summer dry conditions may resent irrigation, young oaks adapt to garden watering. Indeed, under garden conditions seedling oaks may reach 25 feet in ten years--they actually grow faster than many commonly planted trees! Our native oaks deserve to be planted far more often than they are; happily, they are becoming more popular.

The California nutmeg is an unusual conifer and not difficult to grow, though a bit slow. Its needles are extremely sharp, so it should not be planted near a path.

Our California laurel becomes a stately tree. It is slow growing, but well-situated specimens are a fine gift to future generations.

The coast redwood is met with often enough in cultivation locally, some say too often. It would be refreshing to see it mixed more often in man-made landscapes with its proven companions in the natural landscape, especially Douglas fir, tanbark oak and California laurel. Other possible redwood companions include big-leaf maple, white alder, coast live oak, interior live oak, California nutmeg, black cottonwood, and madrone.

Many people long to grow the madrone, one of the world's most beautiful broadleaf evergreen trees. It has not proven easy to cultivate, but if you like a gardening challenge, try this treasure!

Two of our native trees regarded as "ugly ducklings" deserve to be mentioned here especially for those who garden with wildlife in mind.

The California buckeye has lovely structure, interesting fruits, spectacular flowers, exquisite spring foliage--but a decided off-season as the deciduous leaves turn brown in the summer; it is the first to drop its leaves. Its flowers are despised by some because their pollen is somewhat toxic to the non-native honeybee, but no flowers have more value to butterflies. In bloom this tree may be festooned with butterflies; we have seen seven species nectaring on one tree simultaneously! The tiger swallowtail, mourning cloak, California sister, California tortoiseshell, spring azure and many others visit this tree. It is easy to grow.

The blue elderberry is considered too coarse and "common" by many gardeners, but the summer fruits attract a wider range of birds than any other tree. Songbirds favor it highly for food and nesting. It is easy to grow and very fast. A stump-sprouter, it is amenable to pruning, which may help keep it presentable.


Native Trees of San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties

Aceraceae (Maple Family)
Acer macrophyllum big-leaf maple
Acer negundo var. californicum box elder
Betulaceae (Birch Family)
Alnus rhombifolia white alder
Caprifoliaceae (Honeysuckle Family)
Sambucus mexicana blue elderberry
Ericaceae (Heath Family)
Arbutus menziesii Pacific madrone
Fagaceae (Oak Family)
Lithocarpus densiflorus tanbark oak
Quercus agrifolia coast live oak
Quercus chrysolepis canyon live oak
Quercus douglasii blue oak
Quercus garryana Oregon white oak
Quercus kelloggii California black oak
Quercus lobata valley oak
Quercus wislizeni interior live oak
Hippocastanaceae (Buckeye Family)
Aesculus californica California buckeye
Lauraceae (Laurel Family)
Umbellularia californica California laurel
Oleaceae (Olive Family)
Fraxinus dipetala flowering ash
Fraxinus latifolia Oregon ash
Pinaceae (Pine Family)
Pinus attenuata knobcone pine
Pinus ponderosa Pacific ponderosa pine
Pinus sabiniana gray pine
Pseudotsuga menziesii Douglas fir
Platanaceae (Sycamore Family)
Platanus racemosa Western sycamore
Salicaceae (Willow Family)
Populus fremontii ssp. fremontii Fremont cottonwood
Populus balsamifera ssp. trichocarpa black cottonwood
Salix laevigata red willow
Salix lasiolepis arroyo willow
Salix lucida ssp. lasiandra shining willow
Taxaceae (Yew Family)
Torreya californica California nutmeg
Taxodiaceae (Bald Cypress Family)
Sequoia sempervirens redwood



Ferris, Roxana S. 1968. Native Shrubs of the San Francisco Bay Region. University of California Press.
Hickman, James C. (ed.). 1993. The Jepson Manual Higher Plants of California. University of California Press.
Metcalf, Woodbridge. 1959. Native Trees of the San Francisco Bay Region. University of California Press.
Sharsmith, Helen K. 1982. Flora of the Mount Hamilton Range of California. California Native Plant Society.
Thomas, John Hunter. 1961. Flora of the Santa Cruz Mountains of California. Stanford University Press.

Prepared by Jeff Caldwell (revised 2/98)

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