Jutta Burger and Bob Huttar, the eyes and brains behind the Flora Friday column here, are back in the park and have made new discoveries to add to the already abundant inventory of this ad lib botanical garden. They’ve identified three new trees and two new bushes, and have found an additional plant not yet identified. Here are the new known species:
Arroyo Willow (Salix lasiolepis)
This willow grows on one of the high spots in the northern section of the park. The plant prefers environments with steady moisture such as marshes and creeksides, but can be found in a great variety of other habitats up to about 7,000 feet elevation. It is native to California and nearby states.
The indigenous peoples of California used the species in various ways. As a traditional medicinal plant, infusions of the leaves, bark, or flowers were a used for several disease remedies. The inner bark was used to make rope. Shoots were used in coiled and twined basketry, and branches were used to make acorn storage baskets.
The flower is a yellowish catkin that is important to many insects and birds. The plant is confirmed host to thirteen species of butterflies and moths, and is a likely host of 200 additional species.
The plant is available in commercial nurseries and is used most often in restoration projects.
Strawberry Tree (Arbutus unedo)
The Strawberry Tree is not related to the plant we know as strawberry, but its fruits are edible. Wikipedia reports:
Arbutus unedo’s fruits have a high content of sugars (40%), and antioxidant vitamins such as vitamin C, beta-carotene, niacin, tocopherols, and organic acids that are precursors to omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids (nearly 9%). They are edible fresh, but that is an uncommon consumption, especially because the mature fruit tends to bruise very easily, making transportation difficult.
They are used mostly for jam, marmalades, yogurt and alcoholic beverages, such as the Portuguese medronho, a type of strong brandy. Many regions of Albania prepare the traditional drink rakia from the fruits of the plant (mare or kocimare in Albanian), hence comes the name of the drink “raki kocimareje”. In order to reduce the high content of methanol in the drink, the spirit is distilled twice.
Arbutus unedo’s leaves have been employed in traditional and folk medicine in the form of a decoction having the following properties: astringent, diuretic, urinary anti-septic, antiseptic, intoxicant, rheumatism, tonic, and more recently, in the therapy of hypertension and diabetes.
The leaves are reported to have a high concentration of flavonol antioxidants, especially quercitin, best extracted with a decoction, and together with the fruits are a source of antioxidants.
The leaves also have anti-inflammatory properties,
The Strawberry Tree is native to the Mediterranean region, with isolated stands found in Ireland. The plant has been known and cultivated since Greek antiquity.
Yellow Bush Lupine (Lupinus arboreus)
Yellow Bush Lupine is sometimes known as tree lupine because it can grow up to seven feet tall in sheltered spots. Gardeners like it for its bright yellow springtime flowers that resemble peas. It has value also to stabilize drifting sand dunes. Like many other legumes, it not only thrives in soils with low nitrogen but adds nitrogen to the soils.
This lupine is thought to have originated in the Point Reyes peninsula. It is very much a local California native, a valued member of native gardens. However, outside of its home range, it may be considered invasive, even a noxious weed. Because it changes soil chemistry, it allows exotic plants to establish themselves to the detriment of native plants that thrive on low-nitrogen soils. It also hybridizes readily with other lupines, threatening the survival of these locally isolated species.
New Zealand Christmas Tree (Metrosideros excelsa)
Before European settlers arrived in what is now New Zealand, this tree was known as pohutukawa in the Maori language. Because of its showy brilliance and its tenacious ability to thrive in the most inhospitable terrain, such as lava fields, the Maori considered it a chief among plants and held it in the highest regard. It once grew in a continuous forest blanketing the shoreline of the North Island of New Zealand, but colonial farming and ranching reduced its range by more than 90 percent. This hasn’t prevented New Zealand from embracing the tree as a cultural icon of the nation.
The pohutukawa can grow up to 80 feet tall. One famous tree on the East Coast of N.Z. is 65 feet tall and has a crown that spreads 125 feet in diameter. It blooms in the height of the southern hemisphere’s summer, December and January; hence the common name, “Christmas tree.”
Because of its showy display and the ease of growing it, the pohutukawa is popular in the commercial nursery trade. There are dozens of introduced cultivars with different flower colors and other variations. Many cities, including San Francisco, have planted it as a street tree, but there are concerns that its powerful root systems invade sewer lines and buckle sidewalks. In South Africa, where it grows with great vigor, it’s considered an invasive species.
Blueblossom Ceanothus (Ceanothus thyrsiflorus)
This ceanothus is unique to California in the wild, but has spread widely through the commercial nursery trade, where it is popular for its evergreen foliage, fast and dense growth, and showy flowers in winter and spring. Depending on the variety and the environment, it can be a low mounding groundcover or a tree more than 20 feet high.
The flowers are host to dozens of varieties of pollinating insects, including bees and butterflies, and the seed-are important to birds as well as small mammals.