Friday, February 08, 2008

Trees of Santa Monica, Part 1. The Indian Laurel Fig

In my neighborhood, the trees move me. So, I'm going to make good on my promise to learn all about the trees, or at least the ones that move me most.

The first thing I learned -- though I had heard a whispering of a rumor before -- is that figs come from ficus trees. What I'm also learning is that there are five billion kinds of the same type of tree. Botany 101, y'all!

This is the tree outside my apartment building. It is a ficus, a Ficus microcarpa, or an Indian Laurel Fig Tree. These trees line my street and a few others, but what I'm finding out is that the ficus on other streets are not necessarily this Indian Laurel. I'll explore those later. The Indian Laurel is listed as "medium height". Their fruit is green and I can't imagine that it's edible. The bark is smooth white or grey.

These trees are native to India, parts of China and Malaysia. What upsets me is that I can't find out why these were planted here over 50 years ago. I'm still digging for that. The books on local trees are dusty and outdated.

Here's Mina on the gnarled roots
The ficus trees in general are a hot topic in Santa Monica right now. The city has planned to remove a third of the mature and gorgeous ficus that shade downtown SM. The company that manages most of downtown believes the thick canopy detracts business; that the shade is shopping prohibive. It's a ludicrous theory. The shading and the trees are what make downtown so inviting. There's also the fact that many people trip and fall on the ficus roots. And nobody likes a law suit. Hey, watch where you're going! The management company came up with stories that the trees were sick and diseased, and a danger. Months later they retracted the "disease" thing. Nice going on the paranoia angle. Trees were supposed to be cut last October, but thanks to the effort of some grassroots protestors and the many of us natives that have written letters, the cutting has been halted, for now. There are no plans to abort the cutting mission yet though. I think a few have vowed to chain themselves to the trees when it's time. God bless 'em.

Here are the Indian Laurels parading down my block; keeping us happy and beautifying the place.


Anonymous said...

I also live in SM, so it's fun to read your posts of our shared hometown :). I can think of one reason people would want to cut down some of the trees: they are so big and top-heavy, and sometimes they outgrow their roots' strength. Case in point: I came home one evening after heavy rains a couple years ago to see one of these beauties horizontal across Centinela, having fallen down and smooshing the car of a rush-hour traveler. Very bizarre sight to see a tree laying across a major roadway. Also speaks to the fact that we've invaded their natural order, no? But if they can figure out which ones might give way, the city would probably save themselves some lawsuits...
I'm excited to learn more about the trees around us as you do!

madness rivera said...

Hi my homie, RIBS. The funny thing is that the city doesn't talk as much about toppling trees, which is rare, but still a much better arguement that some of the other points they continue to bring up. I think a couple years ago a ficus fell and seriously injured a guy in Anaheim. I've heard advocates of saving the trees argue that in lieu of cutting the trees, the trees should be taken care of better; pruned regularly of heavy branches, etc.

Thanks for the comment. More tree history to come!

kristen said...

dude, it's hard to believe that an excuse of 'there's too much shade, it's bad for business' in a town where shade is hard to find...pfft.

i'm glad there are people trying to save those trees - i love them and agree that they add charm and appeal to the neighborhoods.

i'm glad you're doing this project madness, i know nothing about what grows in los angeles, it intrigues me.

Don't Get Mad Get Vegan! said...

I love trees, all of 'em...but this one is an invasive species in FL as well. It's actually on FL's list of FL Exotic Pest Plants as it's fast growing and kills host plants like native palms. (as a wildlife rehabber I'm all about the native plants stayin around providing for the native animal species. go figure ;)

It can grow almost anywhere and forces everything around it to give it space. Sure, the shade is nice and the tree is gorgeous, but invasive species really do wreak havoc in the long run, imo. Granted, being a floridian we're inundated with exotics everywhere you turn.

Don't get me wrong, I don't think they should be removed at this point. I'm just fascinated by all the ways we've messed with the 'natrual' habitat of our lands.

I was a bio major. does it show? hehe. love the post.

madness rivera said...

My trees are getting dogged in my own post! But I'm ill equipped to contest a bio major. Wait 'til you see the invasive roots of the next fig tree I post! I am definitely a supporter of the promotion of native/local plant life, but I read recently that almost every tree in SM is imported because most native trees of California are way too huge to plant as street trees. Native pines are scattered around, and some palms are from Cali, but from way south, almost Mexico.

The ficus debate here really has nothing to do with restoring native plant life -- another better arguement than what they got! They are going to replace the ficus with ginkos, a Japanese tree. It is almost entirely about producing more revnue on 4th and 2nd Street. 3rd Street Promenade -- an out door mall where no cars drive -- is our BOOMING shopping area. The city is trying to make us believe that 4th & 2nd Street shops don't do as well because of the ficus. Maybe it's because no cars drive down 3rd and it a . . .mall?

Anyway, thanks for the insight on the Indian Laurel. I love you anyway Indian Laurels, you big shitstirrers!

annie said...

Thanks for the memories. We had a ficus tree in our yard when I was growing up in FL. It was HUGE and it grew so fast my parents would have it cut back to the trunk every two or three years. But it always grew back, bigger than ever. My mom and I would have picnics under the branches. Although I support native plants when possible, as long as these are doing no harm, just let them be.

Oh, and I would welcome the shade while shopping on a hot day anywhere!

Marigoldie said...

Lots of complaints in the south about magnolia trees and their shitstirring roots. Too bad something so glorious has to be tamed.

Love the pic of Mina.

madness rivera said...

Thanks Annie. Love the story.

Oh Marigoldie, the Santa Monica Magnolias, originally shipped in directly from the south, are in my top five and soon to come. Maybe my city likes the badass family of trees.

Marigoldie said...

Magnolias make me swoon because they double as forts. You can just walk right in between branches and voila! You're in a little house with magnolia branch walls. And smelling like heaven.

Anonymous said...

thank you, thank you! we've been trying to figure out what those big beautiful trees are called and you've told us - the indian laurel fig tree. now we can rest!

Angela said...

This is a beautiful blog!
Do you know if the Moreton Bay Fig tree is in fact the trees down Olmpic St. in Santa Monica?? (found on Olmpic & 14th)...

I would love to know. they are so wonderful to me.

Thank you woman, for your work and brilliant passion for trees!

leon said...

I live in Mexico even though I am from the USA and work for the US navy in San Diego where I have another house. One hundred years ago during the preparations for the worlds/expo fair in San Diego which was, I think, was the start of indian laurels in california, the park is full of very old indian laurels.I planted 20 trees around my house in Mexico and now they are 20 years old and I can say, these tress are pretty big now, the biggest one is over 30 feet high. My soil is dry, I only watered them when they were like to 7 feet tall then let them alone cost me 5 bucks each for a 1 ft tree at the swap meet. I have shade all around my property , full of birds and life. In Balboa Park in a moist canyon they have one that is over 100 years old with a 10 foot thick trunk and god who knows what height. The fruits are not green as you state, they mature and turn black and mushie, get a magnifying glass and look at the mushy ones, open them , they are tiny figs that the birds love to eat and the sweet parts that the beez like to attack. I sometimes eat them when I am curious , my neices call them barbie size figs and eat them all the time when they are sweet red and mushy on the inside. In mexico these were introduced hundreds of years ago, they call them Yukateco trees, most spanish speakers around your parts call them that. In some villiages I have seen 300 year old indian laurels and aspens line 300 year old neighborhoods lined with houses, they got so big that the streets have to zig zag around them. When the sun hits 110 degrees outside of the shaded neighborhood you would never know that when in their shade. I love those trees, if they get too big, just cut them down to the trunk or leave them as a tree trunk and watch super massive growth come up so thick you can shape them into animals. Guess what tree is used to make animal shapes out of the crown ? indian laurels. never cut them down , at least relocate them like they do in Mexico.

Anonymous said...

I know this blog post is years old, but I came back from LA last night and was searching online for the beautiful trees I saw all over Santa Monica - low and behold, I found this blog with all the details! We go to LA often, my husband lived there for many years, and we usually stay in Santa Monica. I just love the ficus/Indian Laurel fig trees there, especially along 2nd Ave, and I also like how they are lighted at night. They add such beauty and character to the neighborhood - not to mention much-needed in the summer. Anyway thanks for the interesting info, and long live the Indian Laurel figs!