Street trees add beauty to the block, increase property values, reduce storm-water runoff, and clean the air. Here’s a list that’s tailored especially to San Francisco
Friends of the Urban Forest
The trunk and main limbs of this tree are covered with handsome, thick, corky bark (the cork of commerce). Oval leaves are shiny dark green above, gray beneath. This makes for a good garden shade tree; lightly textured foliage contrasts interestingly with massive, fissured trunk. Needs good drainage. While it’s fairly tolerant of various soils, foliage may turn yellow in highly alkaline conditions. Drought-tolerant once established; tolerates some shade and medium winds.
Reaches 30–60 feet tall.
Reaches 15–30 feet tall. New leaves emerge bright copper and hold that color for a long time before turning a very shiny green. Garlands of creamy white flowers bloom in spring. Tolerates sandy soil, sun, and shade.
Reaches 20–25 feet tall. Massive shrub but with staking and pruning in youth, it can grow into a narrow, rounded-headed tree. Narrow, 3-inch-long leaves are coppery when new, maturing to vivid green. Bruised leaves smell lemony. Bright red, 6-inch-long brushes appear in waves throughout the year. Tolerates drought, poor drainage, poor soil, salty air, winds, smog, fog, cold. It’s happy in sun or shade, though it will flower more in sun.
Reaches 15–25 feet tall. This Mediterranean native has a natural habit that is compact and multi-stemmed, with a broad base. It often represents a gradually tapering cone. Leathery, aromatic leaves are the traditional bay leaves of cookery—oval, 2–4 inches long, and dark green. Clusters of small yellow spring flowers are followed by black or dark purple fruit. Drought-tolerant once established; also tolerates sandy or rocky soil, salty air, wind, smog, and temperature extremes.
Reaches 20–35 feet tall. The Brazilian native has a wide, irregular oval-headed habit. Finely cut, ferny leaves usually drop in late winter. New leaves may emerge quickly or may remain bare until tree into bloom—typically mid to late spring, though blossoms may appear earlier or open at any time throughout the summer. Flowers are lavender blue, tubular, 2-inches long, and carried in profuse, 8-inch-long clusters. Tolerates sandy soil.
Reaches 40–60 feet tall. Trees are generally spreading, with long, arching, eventually weeping branchlets. On older trees, the bark of the trunk sheds in patches (somewhat like bark of a sycamore), often creating beautiful molting. Leathery, dark green leaves. Drought-tolerant once established; also tolerates poor drainage and any soil.
Reaches 30–45 feet tall. This Australian native looks somewhat like a eucalyptus. Trunk and limbs have reddish-brown bark with flakes off to reveal smooth, light-colored bark beneath. Oval, leathery bright green leaves are 4–6 inches long. White or cream-colored flowers appear in summer, followed by woody capsules like those of a eucalyptus. Drought-tolerant once established; also tolerates poor drainage, any soil, and smog.
Reaches 25–35 feet tall. Willow-like, gray-green foliage blends well with any color. Smooth gray trunks and branches become gnarled and picturesque in age. This variety bears no fruit or pollen—great for allergy sufferers. Drought-tolerant once established; also tolerates any soil, salt air, gusty or cold winds, and fog.
Reaches 45 feet tall. This rather formal-looking tree from Australia has a conical, dense crown. Mahogany-colored bark peels off, revealing satiny white new bark beneath. Leaves are green and glossy. Clusters of small, faintly fragrant yellow flowers appear in late spring or early summer, profuse enough to put on a good show. Seedpods are like those of eucalyptus but small and don’t create a litter problem.
Reaches 30–40 feet tall. This Brazilian native grows with an exceptionally straight trunk and displays arching, glossy bright green leaves. Tolerates loamy or sandy soil and moderate salt spray.