Friends of Carmel Forest Tree Tour with Dr. Matt Ritter 2016 - Carmel by the Sea, California

Founded in 1989, the non-profit citizens group Friends of Carmel Forestis committed to sustaining and protecting Carmel's unique urban forest by planting new trees, conducting tree surveys yearly, and encouraging public awareness and care for Carmel's trees through educational programs.  One such educational program is their ever popular yearly Friends of the Carmel Forest Tree Tour.  This year Dr. Matt Ritter was back again to lead our walk. 

Dr. Ritter (and this is the short list) is a botany professor at Cal Poly, director of the Cal Poly Plant Conservatory, chair of the San Luis Obispo Tree Committee, and coordinator of the California Big Tree Registry.  He is also the author of the highly informative and might I say indispensable book A Californian's Guide to the Trees Among Us.

In this book he writes, "I have always been drawn to trees and believe that I am not alone in this sentiment.  Growing up among the remnant stands of large valley oaks in a small interior valley of California's North Coast Range...I knew there was something inspiring about trees...Those who live in California need not travel to exotic places to see an eclectic mix of trees from all corners of the earth; one only need stroll down a local street and look up." (1)   And that is exactly what we did during our tour. 

Dr. Ritter led our group of 38 around eight city blocks in historic Carmel-by-the-Sea. During the two hours we would view and learn to identify over thirty species of trees living in our urban forest. Many of which are included on Carmel's Recommended Tree Species List

c 1890 Duckworth looking toward Carpenter St.

Urban Forest

Carmel-by-the-Sea's urban forest is made up of native and non-native trees. In 1888 when the Duckworth Brothers acquired the rights to develop and sell lots of the 324 acres of the Las Manzanitas Rancho, the native trees that were found within our village laid the foundation of what is now Carmel's dynamic urban forest ecosystem.

Ocean Avenue c 1888

The "man-made" beginning to our current urban forest might be traced to the stand of eucalyptus planted near the dunes in the late 1800s. And in the early 1900s, the 2,000 trees Robinson Jeffers planted to shelter his home on Carmel Point, as well as the Monterey pine trees that Frank Devedorf planted down the center of Ocean Avenue. 

Ocean Avenue c 1910 

Today our unique urban forest (over 300 species according to Dr. Ritter) is managed and cared for by city staff, City Forester Mike Branson, the Forest and Beach Commission, and Friends of Carmel Forest. In return Carmel's urban forest not only contributes to the beauty of our community by providing us with a walkable interconnected network of green spaces, it also helps us environmentally by improving our air quality and reducing storm water runoff.

Piccadilly Park 

Our morning tour began in Piccadilly Park where Friends of Carmel Forest president Maria Sutherland announced that due to popular demand the original 20 guests that had signed up for Dr. Ritter's tour was now 38.  A friend on the afternoon tour reported that their tour was over booked also.   
In Piccadilly Park our attention was called to three trees.  The Coast Live Oak (Quercus agrifolia) at the center of the park which Dr. Ritter said was "a very old has been cared for very nicely and in some sense defines this park."

Identified by its evergreen dense canopy, 

rough gray bark (on older trees), 

and leaves that are cupped, spoon-shaped with holly like points. The coast live oak is native to an area from Sonoma, California to Baja. 

The Catalina Ironwood (Lyonothamnus  floribundus) stands tall at the back of the park. Unique to the Channel Islands of California it is drought tolerant,

and identified by its redwood
 colored "peel off" bark,

and narrow, deeply lobed, fern-like leaves.

Clusters of white flowers bloom from June to September.  

The Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) is a non-native tree. In fact as Dr. Ritter explains, "The ginkgo is an ancient species - no one knows where this tree is native to. Potentially it could be native to Southern China or Japan where old populations of these trees have been found."

Easily identified by its fan-shaped leaves, Dr. Ritter estimated that this tree was probably about 20 years old. And in fact he is right.  
To make a long story short the City of Carmel voted June 6, 1996 to have the Carmel Garden Club restore the “vacant lot with one magnificent oak,” (2) in the former location of Piccadilly Nursery which went out of business in 1979. Landscape architect Walter Guthrie designed the plan and in April of 1997 the property was formally rezoned by the city as a park. The Carmel Garden Club continues to maintain this park. 

Ocean Avenue 

Carmel has lost a number of trees due to the last five years of drought, and the City of Carmel is working hard to replace the trees that had to be removed.

That said you may wonder why tall stumps like the ones above rise out of the sidewalk around downtown. Quite simply these stumps serve as reminders to residents, city officials, and visitors that a new tree will soon be planted there.  

We encounter one of those new trees at Dolores Street and Ocean Avenue.  This Monterey Pine (Pinus radiata) may not look like much now but these grow fast, up to 50 feet in ten years.

In a few decades, it will look like some of its majestic relatives at this intersection.

The Monterey pine, one of the most popularly planted trees in the world, is native to only three small groves in California, here around Monterey, Cambria, and north of Santa Cruz.  

In front of the historic Schweinger Building, now home of the Carmel Bakery Dr. Ritter points out a Chinese Elm (Ulmus pavifolia)

Native to eastern Asia this elm is very common in California's urban areas. The parking lot at Trader Joe's in Monterey is full of them.  

This specimen on Ocean Avenue reaches the height of the second story in front of the bakery and has a nice widespread canopy.  The leaves attach singly, alternating along the stem. Probably one of its most identifying features is the outer bark that flakes off revealing red and tan spots underneath.  

In front of the historic Seven Arts Building, now home to Carmel Bay Company are two mature Bottle Tree's (Brachychiton populneus). Native to eastern Australia, this is one of four species of bottle tree that is found in California.  

They have large bulging trunks that can be seen in the picture below. 
The leaves are ovoid to 3-pointed shaped attached alternately to the stem.

In the median running down the center of Ocean Avenue a number of specimens of the Toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia) can be found between San Carlos and Monte Verde. The one Dr. Ritter points out is directly across from the historic Pine Inn

This evergreen shrub type tree is sometimes called Christmas or holly berry because of the red fruit that is present around Christmas.  For some reason one of Carmel's toyon's is still displaying its red berry in July.  

What is a more usual sight for this time of year are the small white flowers. 


Monte Verde Street

The next group of trees are located on Monte Verde near Carmel City Hall and L' Auberge Carmel. 

In front of Carmel's City Hall are three specimens of Coast Redwood (Sequoia sempervirens). The coast redwood, which is the California state tree, is the tallest tree in the world. The tallest coast redwood (around 387 feet) is located in Del Norte County, California. 

One of the coast redwood's in front of city hall is estimated to be around 80 to 90 feet, with a circumference measured a few years ago by Friends of Carmel Forest at 12 feet.

These trees are native to the area from southern Oregon to central California.  With their health and height closely tied to the fog bank, the coast redwood is usually found within 50 miles of the coast.  

One of our coast redwoods has a large burl, which is where the grain of the tree has grown in a deformed manner.  Burls are popular with furniture makers and wood sculptors, with some trees being harvested or poached for their burl.  

Across from the L'Augerge stands a Tulip Tree (Liriodendron tulipifera).  The leaves of this tree are glistening and covered with black spots. The droppings, that have stained the sidewalk below, are from a sticky sugary liquid called honeydew. 

Though this isn't a usual distinguishing characteristic of the tulip tree, it is of this one which is infected with aphids.   

Dr. Ritter tells us that what we are witnessing is called herding or farming aphids. It is a kind of symbiotic relationship between the ants and aphids.  

In nature ants protect aphid larvae from predators (like the ladybug). Aphids repay the ant by supplying them honeydew. Basically Dr. Ritter said, "the ants drink from the aphid's behind."  I was a bit skeptical until I found this BBC video.  Now I am a believer - nature is amazing.

Next to the aphid infested tulip tree is a tree nicknamed "ghetto palm" because it is commonly found in vacant lots.  

Native to China, the Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus altissimus) has distinctive leaves that look like leaflets arranged opposite each other along a stem. 

The picture below is a close up of the winged fruits or samaras that are produced on female trees during the summer. 

Our next two trees are two kinds of eucalyptus. The eucalyptus is non-native and was introduced to California in the 1856 by John Waterman, a clipper boat captain who traveled between Australia and California. 

Red Ironbark

Our first specimen is the Red Ironbark (Eucalyptus sideroxylon) which produces the beautiful pink flower shown below from fall to spring.  

The second euchalyptus is the Peppermint Gum (Eucalyptus nicholii), the same specimen of tree Dr. Ritter used for the cover of his book, A Californian's Guide to the Trees Among Us.   

Fast growing, with leaves weeping gracefully, this tree is contributes to the upper canopy of Carmel's urban forest.


Seventh Avenue 

As we round the corner from Monte Verde to Seventh Avenue we find the Blackwood Acacia (Acacia melanoxylon)

Okay full disclosure time, I am not the biggest fan of the acacia.  But this specimen is lovely and apparently has no problem surviving, thriving or multiplying in our climate.  

The seeds, Dr. Ritter explained are distributed by the "bird dispersal mechanism." The black seed on the inside of the acacia seed pod is wrapped by the red funiculus. Birds are attracted to the red color, pick it off, eat, and digest this. Finally the excrement from the bird of this seed becomes the new tree. 

Our next tree is native to the Mediterranean. The Olive (Olea europea) was most likely the first non-native tree introduced to California by the Franciscans at Mission San Diego. 

The two specimens on this block contribute to the lower canopy of Carmel's urban forest.   

The olive tree does well here. Their trunks tend to look quite old, yet Dr. Ritter estimates that this tree is only about 30 years.


 Church of the Wayfarer Garden

The Monterey cypress is one of the rarest trees found in the wild.  It is native to only three small groves, Point Lobos, Cypress Point in Pebble Beach, and here in Carmel.

One of Carmel's more prevalent upper canopy trees, the Monterey cypress we observe today, stands on the edge of the Church of the Wayfarer garden and is estimated to be around 80 years old.  

The tightly closed cones that house the seed can hang for years on the Monterey cypress, opening only by fire or intense heat. 

The garden next to the Church of the Wayfarer was made possible by church member Mrs. George Beardsley in 1940.  This garden is filled with flowers, herbs, and trees typically found in the Bible. We find our next three trees in this garden.

They are pictured below from left to right: Edible Fig (Ficus carica), Carolina Cherry Laurel (Prunus caroliniana), and Grecian Laurel (Laurus nobilis)

The edible fig tree which is found commonly in tropical regions produces an edible fruit and is easily identified by 
its leaves which are deeply lobed with three to five lobes. 

Church of the Wayfarer Garden

The Grecian laurel, native to the Mediterranean, is slow growing with a truck that usually becomes multi-stemmed (as in this specimen). 
Leaves are elliptic in shape and may be dried and used in cooking.

The Carolina cherry laurel has a natural range extending from southern North Carolina west to Texas.  Leaves are also elliptic as are the Grecian laurels, but the Carolina is not from the laurel family it is from the rose family and the leaves are toxic. 


Wells Fargo Bank Parking Lot

Our walk continues near the parking lot area of Wells Fargo Bank north of Seventh between San Carlos and Mission Streets.

On the sidewalk southwest of Wells Fargo stands an Island Oak (Quercus tomentella).  This is a very rare tree, native to just six islands off the coast of California and to one Mexican island.  It is being planted more and more in cities and Dr. Ritter feels that it should be planted more often in Carmel. 

Leaves are oblong, concave with pointed or rounded tips. The trunk bark was grayish, scaly, and furrowed.   
There are a number of healthy specimens of the Mayten (Maytenus boaria) in the Wells Fargo parking lot.  
Native to Chile and Argentina this evergreen tree has serrated oval leaves that hang in a weeping form, and    

and a rough gray bark.

The evergreen American holly (Ilex opaca) is the official state tree of Delaware, and native to eastern and south-central United States. 

Leaves are dark with thorny edges (though this one appears to have smoother edges).  Berries turn red in December making it a popular holiday decoration. 

At the eastern edge of the Wells Fargo parking lot, just outside Lula's Chocolates where you may find truffles, toffees, and more is an unusually modest specimen of Southern Magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora). 

It can be recognized by the large white flowers along with large stiff leaves that are glossy dark green above and felt rust colored below.
Dr. Ritter told our group that the southern magnolia are beetle pollinated trees.  "Why is that?" someone asked.

"Because," Dr. Ritter said, "bird's can't smell anything - they are attracted only to bright colored flowers and those are the ones they pollinate. Beetle's are responsible for pollinating the white flowers - the magnolia flower has a nice scent but will not attract birds."  Now we know!

Mission Street 

On Mission Street we stop in front of Madrigal  and a Red Oak (Querus rubra) . This tree is native to the eastern and central United States as well as southeast and south-central Canada.  

The bark has ridges and shiny stripes down the entire trunk.

Leaves are large, arraigned alternately on stems, with seven to nine deep lobes. Foliage turns dark red in the fall.

Our next tree is outside the Patisserie Boissiere on Mission.  It is not a very good specimen of the Red Flowering Gum (Coymbia ficifolia).  We have many wonderful samples of this variety spread throughout the village. 

I took this picture of another red flowering gum later in the day on the SE corner of Ocean and Scenic.    

The evergreen red flowering gum is commonly planted in Carmel’s urban forest and contributes to our lower canopy.  It is another species of eucalyptus and easy to identify when in bloom with its showy red flower.  

Friends of Carmel Forest board member and arborist Peter Quintanilla took time out to explain to our tour the Centennial Trees program. 

“Friends of Carmel Forest is hoping to plant 100 trees this year for our centennial, and this is one of them”, Peter said. “We are planting Monterey cypress, Monterey pine, and coast live oak.  This is one of our Monterey pines.  Each tree will be listed on our map.  There is some evidence that Carmel has lost several thousand trees over the last decade or so due to drought and old age, so it is important to restore the forest.  If you think about it the trees we see now were planted by people who are no longer here.  They planted those trees for us.  So we need to do the same thing for others.”   

As you walk through town take notice of new plantings.  If they have two notices on the stake (one from the city and one from Friends of Carmel Forest) they are Centennial Trees. They will also have historical silver tags with personal dedications in the near future.  

Devendorf Park 

Devendorf Park is a gathering place for Carmelites and visitors. Encompassing one city block many gather here on Veterans Day, Easter, 4th of July, Memorial Day, Christmas and many days in between.  This well maintained urban oasis is home to several large trees, including Carmel's largest specimen of coast live oak located in the southwest corner.

During Dr. Ritter's tree tour we examined the large Silver Dollar Gum (Eucalyptus polyanthemos).

This fast growing evergreen has gray oval leaves that droop. 

Cream colored flower clusters appear in spring and summer. 

There are two varieties of strawberry tree that reside along the western edge of the park. 

The Arbutus unedo near the Korean War Memorial was tall and multi-trunked with a few green fruit. 

A pair of Arbutus 'Marina' stand near the Vietnam Memorial and the 911 Memorial.

The Marina was more compact, displying numerous clusters of lantern shaped rosy pink flowers,

and fruit in all colors of development, green, yellow/orange, and red.

The Arbutus 'Marina' is a hybrid, introduced to the nursery industry by the Saratoga Horticultural Research Foundation in 1985 and named after the San Francisco Marina district.

Sixth Avenue

The last area we explore on our walk is Sixth Avenue between Mission and Dolores. 

In front of Grasings restaurant stands one of the most commonly planted fig trees in California, the Indian Laurel Fig (Ficus microcarpa).  A native of south and southeast Asia.

A dense rounded crown of leaves,

and smooth gray trunk are characteristic of this fig. 

 At the end of the block in front of Chase Bank we find the Fern Pine (Afrocarpus falcatus).  

 A native to Africa, this evergreen is not a pine at all. 

Easily identified by its long linear leaves this fern pine is frequently planted in Carmel's urban forest as a lower canopy tree

Across the street from Chase bank in front of Del Monte Fine Art  and Kerry Lee Jewelers we find specimens of Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua)

The deep lobed maple like shaped leaves are stunning in the fall.  They remind me of my childhood town Palo Alto where these trees lined residential neighborhoods and showed their fall colors brilliantly from late August through early November.  

On the corner outside the restaurant Affina stands a lone Mexican Fan Palm (Washingtonia robusta)

A native to Baja California this palm is planted all along the coast of California. But a rarity here in Carmel.

The London Plane Tree (Platanusx hispanica) is magnificent when grown in the proper location, such as London where it appeared as a hybrid in the mid 1600s or in Paris on the Champs-Elysees.  This tree appears to prefer polluted air.   

Here in Carmel we have planted rows of these throughout the village.  Before dropping their leaves in the fall they burst into beautiful color, just as the sweetgum.  But alas the London plane tree does not thrive in the clean ocean air we are blessed to breath. 

Wherever they are planted in our village, they struggle to produce leaves. Maybe it is time to replace them with ones that are more suited to our environment.  

At the Sixth and Dolores we find our last tree of the tour, the Deodar Cedar (Cedrus deodara). A native of the Himalayas, these trees can be distinguished by their drooping branches.

Upright female cones that sit atop the branches take a few years to mature, at which point they break open and release seeds.  

Thank you  once again Friends of Carmel Forest and Dr. Ritter for another informative tree tour. Each tour adds a bit more to my tree vocabulary as I learn to identify, and appreciate many of the trees in our urban forest village by the sea. 

Until next time Happy Adventures!

For an interactive map and guided walking tour covering many of our tours please be sure to download the GPSmyCity App from the iTunes store. The App covers an extensive library of articles and walking tours from over 470 cities worldwide, and now features articles from Adventures of a Home Town Tourist covering Carmel and Monterey (with more cities on the way).


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Photography by LA Momboisse unless listed below:

- Black and white photo of Santiago Duckworth c. 1890 in his sporting rig above Carpenter Street (Photo courtesy of the Harrison Memorial Library History Department).

- Black and white photo view down Ocean Avenue toward Carmel Beach c. 1888. The Hotel Carmelo is on the right at the northeast corner of Junipero Street (Photo courtesy of Harrison Memorial Library History Department).

- Black and white photo looking northwest toward the Pine Inn c. 1910. Frank Devendorf planted the Monterey pine trees in the median of Ocean Avenue (Photo courtesy of Harrison Memorial Library History Department).

- Color photo of the red ironbark flower from Wikipedia.
- Color photo of the seed of the blackwood acacia from Bionet-EAFRINET, photo by Sheldon Navie.
- First color photo of the southern magnolia flower in full bloom Wikipedia public domain.
- Color photo of the flower of the red flowering gum from Wikipedia public domain.

- Close up of Silver Dollar Gum leaves from San Marcos Growers .

(1) Ritter, Matt. A Californian's Guide to the Trees Among Us, Heyday, Berkeley, California, 2011. p. xiii.

(2) Watson, Lisa Crawford. "Saving Grace Garden Club to Restore Piccadilly Park." Monterey Peninsula Herald, April 27, 1997, page C1.