trees of the panhandle

I have a copy of this small booklet published in 1973 by Elizabeth McClintock.  She only identifies herself on the last page of the booklet, in a brief note explaining that this is the second edition;  the original was published eight years earlier (1965?).  In the note she lists some of the changes that occurred in the Panhandle during those eight years .  .  .  trees that fell or were removed, some replaced and some not.

Elizabeth McClintock is still the major authority on the trees of the Panhandle and Golden Gate Park, although she died in 2004.  Having studied botany as an undergraduate at UCLA and then earned her PhD at the University of Michigan, she became a curator in the botany department at the California Academy of Sciences in 1949 and remained there until she retired in 1977.  Her specialty was plant taxonomy and she took a professional interest in the trees in Golden Gate Park throughout her career, documenting the various species found in the park, adding specimens from the park to the Academy’s herbarium and writing many articles about the park’s trees in the Journal of the California Horticultural Society (later the California Horticultural Journal) and in Pacific Horticulture, where she was associate editor for twenty-five years.  Her articles have been edited and collected in: The Trees of Golden Gate Park and San Francisco, by Elizabeth McClintock, edited and arranged by Richard G. Turner Jr. ( Heyday Books/Clapperstick Institute, Berkeley, California in collaboration with Pacific Horticultural Foundation, Strybing Arboretum Society, Friends of Recreation and Parks, Friends of the Urban Forest and the San Francisco Tree Advisory Board; 2001).

So, some thirty-seven years years later, as I enter the Panhandle at the corner of Baker and Oak Streets with McClintock’s booklet in hand, I feel like I have the most authoritative guide at my shoulder!  My goal is to see how many of the trees documented in this booklet are still standing today, what condition they are in, how they have aged or changed.  The booklet divides the Panhandle into four sections and pinpoints the major trees in each section, with numbers on the plan keyed to a plant list.

map iv -- trees of the panhandle

I circle the big ones, the ones that, through strength in numbers and great size, make the Panhandle so magnificent.  I only make it through the first section (from Baker St. to Central Ave.), but it’s enough to get a sense that many (most!) of the trees identified in the booklet are, in fact, still there:  thick groves of redwoods  .  .  .  magnificent elms  .  .  .  monterey cypresses .  .  .  eucalyptus of various shades and shapes  .  .  .  all contorted by time and weather and many looking somewhat the worse for wear and age (unkempt, ungainly), but collectively what a window to the past!

There are some holes, but for now the fabric is holding up.  In some places saplings have been planted to fill in potential gaps.  They seem dwarfed by their surroundings; how long will it take for these little ones to reach sufficient size to replace the grand, old trees as they die?  I will come back another time with an arborist;  someone who can read these trees better than I can, diagnose their age and condition, tell me about the plan to preserve and regenerate this venerable urban forest!

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About fromthethicket

I'm a landscape historian and professor emeritus of landscape architecture, UC Davis. I live in San Francisco.
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5 Responses to trees of the panhandle

  1. Dale says:

    I’m also an admirer of the Panhandle’s trees, and refer to McClintock’s book as I try to figure out what trees are in the Panhandle…and what we might have lost over the years. In my field observations this year I’ve kept track of some of our recent tree losses (see link). When you’re ready to begin discussing the plans for the Panhandle’s tree planting, I’d love to join you!

  2. This is a lovely blog, celebrating a beautiful park. Thank you for giving us this tribute to it.

    A walk in the park with an arborist is a great idea. We are sorry that Elizabeth McClintock is no longer available to us, but since you have read her book, you may have noticed the name of another local arborist who is also an expert on the park. Peter Ehrlich is now the forester in the Presidio. Prior to taking that job he was for many years the head arborist for San Francisco’s Recreation and Park Department. He was the author of the reforestation plan for Golden Gate Park and that plan is described in Ms. McClintock’s lovely book about the trees of GGP.

    Mr. Ehrlich would help you understand why there are not more native trees in Golden Gate Park, or for that matter in any of the parks in San Francisco. As much as we might love our native trees and wish to have more of them, they do not tolerate the wind, salt air, and lack of water in our sandy soil that is needed to sustain them. Much of the landscape we love in Golden Gate Park exists primarily because Wm Hammond Hall was successful in creating a windbreak of Monterey cypress at the western, windward edge of the park. If the windbreak were lost, so would we lose much of the existing landscape in the park.

    There is a great deal of enthusiasm in San Francisco for native plants, but we must also keep in mind that most of Golden Gate Park was barren sand dunes and so the conditions in much of the park are not suitable for many native trees.

  3. Yes, many of the interesting trees that Elizabeth McClintock chronicled are still there – but the problem is that they aren’t being replaced. We’re replacing the trees we lose with a half-dozen species of common trees that could be from anywhere (plums, cherries, victorian box trees, tulip trees). Let’s make the panhandle a place for experimentation again!

    • milliontrees says:

      Since Mr. Sullivan is a member of the Rec & Park Commission, he may know that there is a reforestation plan for Golden Gate Park which is now about 20 years old. This plan and the more general capital plan for GGP which is now about 10 years old, both commit the Rec & Park Dept to retain the historic nature of GGP. That means that trees will usually be replaced with the same species of trees, unless these plans are officially revised.

      If these plans are revised, we hope that they will take into consideration that not all trees are well adapted to conditions in San Francisco. They must be trees that will tolerate salty winds, sandy soil, limited ground water, and rainful generally limited to about 22 inches per year. By all means experiment, but do so with species that can be sustained in our environment.

  4. Million trees is right that there is a reforestation plan for Golden Gate Park, but we all know that there are plenty of plans that gather dust on the shelf – and at least with respect to Golden Gate Park’s trees, I think this is one of them. What gets planted seems to be more haphazard – look around the trees under 10 years old in the panhandle, and see if it matches the diversity that we see in the more mature trees. I think you’ll see what I mean!

    I also think that the reforestation plan needs a big BOOST – it’s not keeping up with the aging of the forest, in my opinion. If I am reappointed to the Commission (my term ended in late August), that would be one of my areas of focus.

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