For over 20 years, Santa Ana has proudly been recognized as part of the Tree City USA program, boasting an urban forest of over 60,000 trees that benefits all its residents. Among the vast stock of mature trees, the neighborhoods of North Santa Ana hold particular significance in preserving this urban forest. West Floral Park is renowned for its magnificent sycamores, Floral Park for its majestic oak trees, and Morrison Park for its currently blooming jacarandas. However, Fisher Park stands out as an arboretum-like haven with its diverse collection of trees, showcasing a blend of native Californian species and trees sourced from various parts of the world. These remarkable trees often go unnoticed in our daily lives, their astounding beauty and splendor hidden in plain sight.
This article will shed light on five of the remarkable trees in Fisher Park, with subsequent newsletters featuring more additions. The objective is to inspire residents to slow down and appreciate the marvels of our trees while fostering a sense of responsibility to protect them. Moreover, Fisher Park is fortunate to have a resident who happens to be one of Orange County’s most prominent tree experts: Tom Larson. With a career dedicated to the tree, landscape, and agricultural industry, Tom brings invaluable expertise to the park. Notably, Tom has propagated tree cuttings from the pear trees at Manzanar, as well as from the “Survivor Tree” that withstood the 9/11 attack on the Twin Towers in New York.
First, let’s delve into some information about Tom Larson before exploring a selection of our magnificent trees.
Tom Larson presently serves on the board of Solutions for Urban Agriculture, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting community-based innovative agricultural systems. For more details, visit sfua.org. Furthermore, he is the creator and manager of the Peace Farm in Rancho Capistrano, a demonstration farm that not only educates but also supplies food for local farmers markets and food pantries. Having served as the president of the Nursery Growers Association in the past, Tom has also worked as a consultant for the State of California, the U.S. Forest Service, the Metropolitan Water District, Sunnylands, Disney World, and Disneyland. He has even cultivated and shipped large specimen trees to three royal palaces in Saudi Arabia. Tom’s involvement with the Great Park in Irvine led to the development of a tree planting plan, an urban forest, and the establishment of a demonstration farm now known as the Farm + Food Lab.
Now, let’s explore some of the captivating trees that grace Fisher Park.
Shamel Ash (Fraxinus uhdei)
Located on Sharon Road, you will find an exceptionally large and captivating Shamel Ash tree (Fraxinus uhdei), standing as one of Santa Ana’s grandest ash trees. Originating from Mexico, this fast-growing species is characterized by its evergreen to semievergreen nature. With an approximate age of 60 years, this tree reaches a height of 70 feet and possesses a majestic crown spreading 50 feet wide. Its extensive shade blankets nearby houses during the summer, significantly reducing air conditioning costs for homeowners. Due to their large size, Shamel ash trees are commonly found in parks and expansive open spaces where shade is highly sought after. These trees are resilient, tolerating hot summers, cold winters, and even challenging soil conditions. With proper care, ash trees can thrive for up to a century.
It’s essential to carefully monitor these trees for the Emerald Ash borer insect, which can be highly detrimental. Given their rapid growth and shallow root systems, they require ample planting space, far away from concrete or brick pavements. The roots of Shamel ash can extend well beyond the tree’s canopy, necessitating careful consideration during planting.
Southern Magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora)
Situated on West River Lane, one of Southern California’s most stunning Southern Magnolia trees (Magnolia grandiflora) gracefully stands tall. Untouched by power lines, curbs, gutters, or structures throughout its life, this tree shines as an exceptional specimen. Thanks to meticulous pruning and maintenance over the years, it boasts an extraordinary shape, branch structure, size, and overall health. Native to southeastern regions of the United States, this magnolia is approximately 80 years old and, with proper care, can thrive for over 200 years.
Broadleaved and evergreen, Magnolia grandifloras exhibit foliage year-round. Evolving when the Earth was primarily covered in ferns and conifers, these trees are recognized for their thick, dark green leaves on the upper side and a gray to rust-colored felt on the underside. They produce large, exquisite white flowers with an enchanting fragrance that mature into cone-like clusters of small fruit adorned with scarlet seeds. Nowadays, a variety of Magnolia species and sizes are available for planting in spaces of all sizes, basking in full sun with well-drained soil.
Blue Gum Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus)
Nestled on the banks of Santiago Creek, a towering Blue Gum eucalyptus reaches a height of 75 feet. Introduced to California in the late 1800s, this fast-growing non-native tree was initially deemed suitable for railroad ties and trestle construction due to its supposed hardwood quality. However, further examination revealed that its wood fell short of expectations for such applications. During the citrus era, Blue Gum eucalyptus trees were planted as windbreaks in citrus groves to protect the fruit from Santa Ana winds. Over 2,000 miles of Blue Gum windrows were planted in Orange County for this purpose. Alongside Santiago Creek, this tree’s expansive canopy provides cascading beauty, effective screening, and excellent nesting and perching spots for owls and hawks. These avian predators play a crucial role in controlling rodents and other vermin populations. The age of this tree is estimated at around 80 years.
While the Blue Gum eucalyptus contributes to the natural landscape, it is not particularly suited for home landscapes. Its leaf litter, fruit capsules, flaky bark, brittleness, and invasive roots make it one of the messiest trees in urban environments. In residential areas, regular pruning every couple of years is necessary to maintain shape and reduce crown density.
Incense Cedar (Calocedrus decurrens)
During the 1940s, Incense Cedars were planted in the Fisher Park and Floral Park areas of Santa Ana. These captivating specimens add tremendous character to the properties, with an approximate height of 50 feet and an age of 60 years. Known for their reddish-brown bark and pungent fragrance during warm weather, Incense Cedars possess fan-shaped leaves instead of the needle-like foliage typical of pine trees. In our region, they can grow over 40 feet tall and spread 15 feet wide. These trees require minimal pruning.
Incense Cedars naturally thrive in mixed conifer forests, spanning from northern Baja California to Oregon. The finely textured wood, which does not splinter, finds use in the manufacturing of pencils and various other products. Surprisingly, Incense Cedars are not commonly found in other parts of Orange County, making them a distinctive sight in Santa Ana.
Aleppo Pine (Pinus halepensis)
Standing approximately 75 feet tall with a crown spread of 35 feet, the Aleppo Pine dominates the landscape along Santiago Creek. This majestic pine tree is estimated to be over 70 years old. Known for their remarkable drought tolerance and adaptability to various soil conditions, Aleppo Pines boast an asymmetrical and rugged shape. Once established, they can withstand extreme temperatures, salt sprays, air pollution, and even neglect. If planted in residential landscapes, it is advisable to maintain a minimum distance of 8 feet from structures, pavement, and property lines. Regular pruning helps manage its size and shape.
Native to the Mediterranean region, Aleppo Pines have been a staple of California landscapes for over a century. They are commonly used in parks, commercial properties, and for screening and soil stabilization on slopes. During the flowering season, these trees produce an abundance of pollen. Pruning in winter is recommended to reduce wind load, maintain a desirable shape, and avoid nesting season. It’s important to note that bird species, including raptors and hummingbirds, may nest between February 1st and August 31st, with additional courtship and nesting occurring outside this timeframe. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife often requires surveys for raptor nests from January 15th to September 15th.
By appreciating the diverse collection of trees in Fisher Park, Santa Ana residents can develop a deeper connection with nature and contribute to the preservation of these invaluable natural assets.