Gnarly Trees of SF

Have you ever visited San Francisco and noticed there were there are a bunch of trees which look like a pruning experiment that went bad?

Pollarded London Plane on a moody, foggy morning in SF.

Pollarded London Plane on a moody, foggy morning in SF.

You probably saw one of our many pollarded trees that inhabit nearly every public gathering area. Pollarding has been around ages.  The new growth is aggressively cut back every year to the core branches or even down to the trunk of the tree.

Pollarded trees on Larkin St. In the distant lies Alcatraz.

Pollarded trees on Larkin St. In the distant lies Alcatraz.

It is likely that the technique was developed in order to provide a reliable source of firewood.  If you do not cut the tree down, you can keep harvesting wood from it.  Since we generally do not need firewood in San Francisco, why do it here?  It is a good way to have a shade tree that does not get in the way of all those power lines, telephone poles, electric power grids used for electric MUNI buses, etc.  Basically, the streets of San Francisco has a jungle of wires and other Industrial Revolution junk that loom 20-50 feet above our heads.  Pollarding allows you to have a shade tree that does not get too big and jeopardize growing into that mess.

Here is a tree that has grown a year since the last pruning.

Here is a tree that has grown a year since the last pruning.

Some trees that you will see pollarded around San Francisco are the London Plane (Platanus X acerifolia), California Sycamore (Platanus racemosa), Mulberry (Morus spp.), Willow (Salix spp.), and some Oaks (Quercus spp.).  Most of these trees are deciduous which brings out the character of the trees in the winter time.

A pollarded tree in Upper Sproul Plaza, UC Berkeley.

A pollarded tree in Upper Sproul Plaza, UC Berkeley.

Patrick Dougherty installed “The Upper Crust” April 2009 at the Civic Center.

Matti standing amongst The Upper Crust.

Matti standing amongst The Upper Crust.

PLEASE NOTE:  this falls under “Do Not Try This At Home”.  Pollarding should start when the tree is young.  If tried on an older tree…it is like it will die an early death.

– Matti and Megan Far Out Flora

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