Friends of the Carmel Forest Tree Tour with Dr. Matt Ritter - June 2018

Monterey Pine Forest - Carmel Hill & Highway 1 

Carmel'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 in what would become Carmel-by-the-Sea, 

Ocean Avenue and Hotel Carmelo (NE Corner Junipero) c 1888/89

the native trees that were found within the village would lay the foundation of what is now Carmel's dynamic urban forest ecosystem.    

 Santiago Duckworth looking toward Carpenter St.  from Upper Trail c. 1890

The "man-made" beginning of Carmel's urban forest might be traced to three stands of trees.  The eucalyptus planted near the dunes in the late 1800's, the 2,000 Monterey Cypress and Monterey Pine planted by Robinson Jeffers on Carmel Point in 1919, and the Monterey Pine planted by Frank Devendorf down Ocean Avenue in 1910.  

Monterey Pine trees Ocean Avenue c. 1910

Today with over 300 species of trees, Carmel-by-the-Sea is known as "a village in a forest by the sea." This urban forest is managed and cared for by the city Division of Forest and Beach, the Forest and Beach Commission, and Friends of Carmel Forest.    

  Friends of Carmel Forest Board members Karen Ferllito, Steve Brooks, and Ramie Allard

The Friends of Carmel Forest, who are responsible for organizing this tree tour, was founded in 1989, and is a volunteer group of Carmel citizens committed to protecting, sustaining and enhancing Carmel's urban forest.  

One of the ways Friends of Carmel Forest is helping to sustain and enhance the village forest is to plant new trees through the Centennial Tree program.  If you are interested in sponsoring a tree, Monterey Pine, Monterey Cypress, or Coast Live Oak visit

Dr. Matt Ritter is back again this year to lead this very popular and highly informative tour.  Dr. Ritter is a botany professor at Cal Poly, director of the Cal Poly Plant Conservatory, chair of San Luis Obispo Tree Committee, and coordinator of the California Big Tree Registry.  He is also the author of two books, A Californian's Guide to the Trees Among Us, and California Plants A Guide to Our Iconic Flora

   Coast Live Oak (lft) Monterey Pine (md) Silver Dollar Gum (rt) - Devendorf Park 

Our tour begins in Devendorf Park, will cover about 10 city blocks, and 30 species of trees. Dr. Ritter is very entertaining, easy to understand, and very patient with all of our questions! To view a map of this tour, visit this link

Coast Live Oak (Quercus agrifolia)

Our first tree is one of our more popular trees, the coast live oak.  This one takes up much of the southwest corner of Devendorf Park and is well over 100 years old. 

Identified by the acorn, an evergreen canopy, gray bark, and cupped spoon-shaped leaves with a tuft of hair down the middle of the back spine. 

Silver Dollar Gum (Eucalyptus polyanthemos)

Also in Devendorf on the west side is this silver dollar gum.    

A native of Australia and member of the eucalyptus family, these trees adapt well to our environment. 

The silver dollar bark is dry and the leaves are short, round and bluish/purple in color.

Indian Laurel Fig (Ficus microcarpa)

   Indian Laurel Fig (lft) Sweetgum (rt)  - Grasings Restaurant (NW Corner Mission & 6th)

Across the street from Devendorf on the NW corner of Mission and 6th Avenue is our next tree, the Indian laurel fig. 

This specimen has a beautiful crown of dark green leaves and multiple smooth gray branches off the trunk. 
Dr. Ritter pulls one of the small figs off the tree and then explains the fascinating story of the mutual dependence of the wasp and the fig.  There are about 900 species of ficus and each one has a species of wasp that will fertilize it.  How does a wasp get into that tiny fig one asks?

Dr. Ritter is happy to explain. "The wasp is driven crazy by the smell of the fig...she finds the hole at the end and pushes her way into the hole.  It is a one way trip. She is going to die inside the fig...When she gets on the inside she unpacks the pollen she is carrying and pollinates 30, 40, or a hundred flowers inside the fig. Then she sits down on top of each flower with her ovum depositor and drops an egg down into the bottom of every one of the flowers.  Then she dies...The males wasps hatch first, they mate with the females while they are still inside their flowers.  Then the males die inside the figs and the females who are fertilized push their way out of the fig and start the process over again." 

Pretty amazing right?  Take a look at this web site that gives an explanation and even has video.   

Creeping fig (Ficus pumila)

Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua)

Sweetgum (west side Mission btw 5th and 6th)

Across from Grasings and north on Mission are a number of sweetgum.  They are one of my favorite trees. Mike and I have actually ordered two of the 'Palo Alto' sweetgum to plant in our front yard.  They are also very popular in Carmel and during the fall show off a gorgeous display of color - yellow, orange, red, and purple.  

The sweetgum has alligator like bark, a maple looking leaf and circular spiked fruit.  Each fruit contains a few seeds.  

Norway Maple (Acer platanoides)

Dr. Ritter did not point out this tree on our walk.  I did go in search of it on Mission east side mid block between  5th and 6th Avenue and could not find a Norway Maple.  If anyone from Friends of Carmel Forest finds a Norway Maple specimen please let me know and I will add it to this walk.  

Red Horse Chestnut (Aesculus x carnea)

Red Horse Chestnut - March Hare (SE Corner Mission & 5th) 

Our next tree, the red horse chestnut is not looking its best. Dr. Ritter told us that this is not a very common tree to Carmel. And for good reason, they do not do well in coastal areas.  
They are deciduous but by June should have more foliage if it was happy with its environment.  The leaves are palmate in shape and the fruit, which is green in the picture below, will become brown when it is ripe.  Don't eat them they are poisonous to humans.   

Chinese Elm (Ulmus parvifolia)

Chinese Elm (SW Corner Mission & 5th) 

Dr. Ritter believes that the Chinese elm has the potential of doing well in Carmel, though this one he said "looked like it was hit by a truck."  

The Chinese elm is deciduous, with a simple leaf form, and orange patches exposed under the exterior bark.  
Trees planted in the downtown area are planted in street wells.  Dr. Ritter suggested that Friends of Carmel Forest might prioritize those plantings by using GPS quadrants to map the current wells and what is planted there.  When a number of wells are empty in a certain area, Friends of Carmel Forest could notify the city of the need for replanting and offer a suggestion of what might work well in the area.   

Monterey Pine (Pinus radiata)

Monterey Pine (Mission & 5th) 

The Monterey pine occurs only three places naturally: Cambria, Monterey, and Santa Cruz. This tree is found all over in Carmel-by-the-Sea.  Here at the corner of Mission & 5th there are three, one of which appears to be struggling.
Monterey Pine - Pine Inn (NW Corner Ocean and Lincoln)

There are many nice specimens along Ocean Avenue.  

                    Monterey Pine - Pine Inn (NE Corner Ocean and Monte Verde)

Monterey Pine & Monterey Cypress (Median Ocean Avenue) 

With an average life span of 80 to 90 years, this Monterey pine in the center median of Ocean Avenue might be one of those planted by Devendorf in 1910.  

Mexican Fan Palm (Washingtonia robusta

Our next tree, the Mexican fan palm, is at San Carlos and 5th.  This is the most widely grown palm along the coastal area of California.  Though the streets of Los Angeles are lined with these trees, there are a few in Carmel.  Another fan palm may be found outside of Affina on 6th Avenue and San Carlos.  

These trees have a 60 to 1 ratio.  They are upwards of 60 feet tall and have a 1 foot diameter trunk. Their trunks do not thicken with age.  But even with this ratio, they can bend all the way over and not break.  The trunk will just pop right back up.  

Monterey Cypress
 (Hesperocyparis macrocarpa)

Monterey Cypress  (NW Corner San Carlos & 5th) 

The Monterey cypress is native to the central coast of California.  It is constrained to two small areas near Carmel: Point Lobos, and Cypress Point in Pebble Beach.  

These trees love our cool summers and sea fog.  The Monterey cypress is shaped and pollinated by the wind and can get pretty massive.  

The cypress, like the pine, is a conifer (cone-bearing tree) and reproduce by male cone's pollen landing on female cone. These fertilized  cones stay closed for a long time, sometimes just hanging out for 50 years or more.  They  only open and expose their seeds during extreme heat, such as a fire. Though the tree is destroyed in fire, when the cones open, they produce new trees.  Pretty amazing!  

Cone of Monterey Cypress 

Grecian Laurel (Laurus nobilis

 Grecian Laurel - Post Office (SE Corner Dolores & 5th)

Outside the Carmel Post Office is very content  Grecian laurel.  This slow growing evergreen tree will eventually (like this one) have multiple branches growing out of the main trunk.  

They have a simple elliptic shaped leaves and a smooth trunk.  The flowers appear in the spring in small yellow clusters. 

Grecian Laurel (rt) Carolina Laurel (lft) - Church of the Wayfarer Garden

There is another lovely example of a Grecian laurel as well as Carolina laurel in the spectacular garden of the Church of the Wayfarer on Lincoln and 7th Avenue.  

Big Leaf Maple (Acer macrophyllum

This big leaf maple is just leafing up in early June.  Dr. Ritter tells us "this deciduous tree also does well in Carmel."

The leaves of the big leaf maple are deeply lobed and turn a pale yellow in the fall. 
I will be checking back in on this tree during the year as, Dr. Ritter tells us that it will produce flowers with wings that hold the seeds. These "fly" from the tree almost like a helicopter.  

Catalina Ironwood 
(Lyonothamnus floribundus)

I will admit that this is not one of my favorite trees.  The reason, the dark brown fruit left from the pretty clusters of white flowers stays on the trees for a long time.  Other than that I find the rest of this tree fascinatingly beautiful. 

The reddish brown bark peels off the trunk and sags from the limbs, while the leaves appear almost fern-like.  

Here we can see an example without the dark brown fruit - - intricate peeling bark, delicate fern leaf and cluster of white flowers.  Okay the Catalina Ironwood is growing on me! 

Blue Gum (Eucalyptus gobulus)

Blue Gum Eucalyptus - Lincoln Court (East side of Lincoln btw 5th and 6th) 

The eucalyptus is native to Australia but seeds were brought to California in the 1850's.  

Dr. Ritter relates the story that "at that time all  economy was based on wood...Eucalyptus was going to make a lot of money for the farmer. Farmers were convinced to plant their least arable land with blue gums and walk away.  This would make them rich."  Unfortunately the wood market did not pan out for the blue gum. This majestic tree is still very prevalent in groves around California.  One of those was Oakland Hills.  

Italian Stone Pine (Pinus pinea)

Italian Stone Pine - First Murphy Park (NW Corner Lincoln & 6th)

The stone pine is distinguished from other pines by its flat top (kind of like an umbrella) and 

a leaf that contains two needles per bundle.  

Now this is not my area of expertise, but if I have paid attention to Dr. Ritter over the years I believe that the picture above shows the male cones and the picture below the female cones of the Italian stone pine.  

Some how fertilization takes place and the end result is the delicious Pine Nut! Actually they are seeds not nuts as nuts would be a fruit.  

Italian Stone Pine - Median of Junipero btw 6th and Ocean

Red Flowering Gum (Corymbia ficifolia

Red Flowering Gum - Harrison Memorial Library (SE Corner Lincoln & 6th) 

Our tour brought us to this red flowering gum behind Harrison Memorial Library on 6th.  This is another favorite of mine.  Whether not in flower as in the case of the one above, or in mid flower as in the case below, this is a stunning tree. 

Red Flowering Gum - Bruno's (North side of 6th btw Junipero and Torres)

Related to the eucalyptus, the red flowering gum has a simple elliptic shaped leaf.  Flowers bud  during the summer. 

Red Flowering Gum - flower bud 

The flower bud grows and eventually pushes the top of the bud open. This top, which stays on the bud, is called the operculum.   As it opens up it reveals red curled up stamens.

These stamens are the male reproductive part. Inside all of these stamens is the pistil, the female.The birds and the bees of the red flowering gum.  Honestly I am amazed at how this all works.  
Red Flowering Gum - flower 

Well then we all know what happens, the male fertilizes the female.  This process becomes the fruit and the fruit produces the seed.  If you want to know more visit this site which is quite detailed.  

Red Flowering Gum - fruit

Black Locust (Robinia pseudoacacia

Black Locust - Harrison Memorial Library (SE Corner Lincoln & 6th) 

The black locust is native to the eastern United States.  It grows well in poor soil but can be considered invasive.  

It has a pretty little purple flower that appears in  the late spring early summer.  Dr. Ritter tells us that the purple is a hybrid as the flower is usually white.  

Black Locust - Harrison Memorial Library Local History Branch (Junipero & 6th) 

Here is another one planted outside our history and children's library. 

Bottle Tree (Brachychiton populneus

Bottle Tree - Carmel Bay Company (SW Corner Ocean & Lincoln)

Native to eastern Australia, this is one of four species of bottle trees found in California. 

Leaves are simple, pointed and set on the stem in an alternate manner.

The trunk is gray with rough groves.  Apparently the trunk is swollen because it is storing water.  Water can actually be squeezed from the wood.  

Coast Redwood (Sequoia sempervirens)

Coast Redwood - Carmel City Hall (East side of Monte Verde between Ocean & 7th)

There are three specimens of coast redwood, the California state tree, in front of our City Hall.   

One of these is estimated to be around 90 feet tall with a circumference measured at 12 feet.  

Their health and height is closely tied to the fog bank, as most are found within 50 miles of the western coastline of the United States.  

Peppermint Gum (Euchalyptus nicholii

Peppermint Gum - L'Auberge Carmel (East side Monte Verde btw Ocean & 7th)

The peppermint gum is another tree native to Australia.  There are three in front of L'Auberge Carmel.  Dr. Ritter placed this tree on the cover of his book A Californian's Guide to the Trees Among Us.  A book I highly recommend! 

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

Tulip Tree (Liriodendron tulipifera

Tulip Tree (West Side Monte Verde btw Ocean & 7th) 

Across from the hotel is a specimen of tulip tree that for years has been part of a symbiotic relationship between ants and aphids called herding aphids.  In nature ants protect aphid larvae from their predators (such as the ladybug). Aphids repay the ant by supplying them (and all the cars that park below this tree) with a sticky honeydew.  The residue is the dark spots on the leaves of the tulip tree. 

Dr. Ritter explained the way the ants receive their honeydew, "the ants drink from the aphid's behind."  I was a bit skeptical until I found this BBC video.  Nature is truly amazing.  

Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus altissima

Tree of Heaven (West Side of Monte Verde btw Ocean & 7th)

Usually found in vacant or abandon lots, and even nicknamed “ghetto palm,” the tree of heaven is native to China.  We have two across the street from one of our fanciest hotels, L’Auberge. 

Leaves are pinnate and sit alternately on the twig.  The tree of heaven is dioecious which means that it produces all male or all female flowers on the same tree.  Since the male flowers produce a bad odor, I am going out on a limb to say the flowers shown in the pictures above and below are female.  

Blackwood Acacia (Acacia melanoxylon

Blackwood acacia (NE Corner Monte Verde & 7th)

Another native of Australia is the blackwood acacia.  It is the longest living of the acacias and can reach heights of 100 feet.  

The seeds of the acacia are distributed by the “bird dispersal mechanism.”  The black seed on the inside of the pod is attached with a cord feeding the seed.  As it develops the red funiculas wrap around the seed.  Birds are attracted to the red and eat it.  Once the funiculas is digested and excreted, the seed is ready to become a new tree.  

Olive (Olea europaea)

Olive - Church of the Wayfarer (NW Corner Lincoln & 7th)

Native to the Mediterranean, the olive tree was most likely the first non-native tree introduced to California by the Franciscans at Mission San Diego.  

The leaf is simple and sits opposite on the twig.  The gray, gnarled trunk makes them look older than they are.  This one has taken up the entire street well. 

Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba)

Ginkgo - Cypress Inn (North Side 7th btw Dolores & Lincoln)

This 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."

Ginkgo - Tiffany & Co. (SE Corner Mission & Ocean) 

Just like the tree of heaven, the ginkgo is dioecious, producing male and female flowers on separate trees.  All the ginkgo's we have in town are female and they put on a beautiful show in the fall when leaves turn brilliant yellow!

Deodar Cedar (Cedrus deodara)

Deodar Cedar - La Bicyclette (NW Corner Dolores & 7th) 

The deodar cedar is distinguished by its drooping branches, bluish green needles, and

cones that sit on top of the branches. 

London Plane Tree (Platanus x hispanica

London Plane Tree (West Side San Carlos btw Ocean & 7th)

The London plane tree can be quite magnificent when grown in the right location, such as in Paris on the Champs-Elysees.  It also may be one of the most commonly grown tree on urban streets.  Unfortunately this tree does not do well here in Carmel. 

And Carmel has tried, the London plane tree has been planted in rows along 6th Avenue and 

 London Plane Tree (North Side 6th btw Mission & San Carlos)

London Plane Tree (West Side Mission btw 6th & Ocean) 

Mission Street.  Neither set of trees are doing very well.  

Island Oak (Quercus tomentella

Island Oak - Wells Fargo Bank (East Side San Carlos btw Ocean & 7th)

Native to just six islands off the coast of California and to one Mexican island is the island oak. This very rare tree is being planted more and more in cities and Dr. Ritter feels it should be planted more in Carmel.  

Pollen bearing male flowers hang in clusters (shown above).  The bark of the island oak is gray to reddish brown (shown below).  

Holly Oak (Quercus ilex

Holly Oak - Coach (NE Corner Ocean & San Carlos)

The holly oak is California's most planted non-native oak.  

The leaf is a long oval shape different than the other oaks we have looked at today.  

Brazilian Pepper (Schinus terebinthifolia

Brazilian Pepper - Cafe Carmel (North Side Ocean btw San Carlos & Mission) 

Our last tree of the day, is the Brazilian Pepper a mid-sized evergreen shrub tree, native to South America. 

They are distinguished by their compound leaf attached alternately to the twig, and small white clusters of flowers which eventually produce red berry like fruit.  There are no flowers currently on the tree as they occur in the fall with fruit maturing in December.  Like the tree of heaven and ginkgo, this too is dioecious. Another interesting side  note on the Brazilian pepper, it is from the Anacardiaceae family which also contains poison oak.  So if you are allergic to poison oak look but don't touch.  

Finally, I wasn't going to let Dr. Ritter get away without signing my copy of his new book, California Plants A Guide to Our Iconic Flora!  This book is a perfect companion to his tree book. 

Another tour completed.  Though not every tree on our tour was perfectly placed or particularly pleased in their environment, each one is important to our story and our urban forest.  What a blessing it is to live here in Carmel-by-the-Sea, a quaint village in a forest by the sea.

Until next time Happy Adventures!

Photography by L.A. Momboisse unless noted below:

- Three black and white photographs of early Carmel are from the Harrison Memorial History Library local History Branch 

- Picture of pine nut and cone from wikipedia
- Color photo of the seed of the blackwood acacia from Bionet-EAFRINET, photo by Sheldon Navie. 


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