Scaling New Heights: Discovering L.A.’s Mightiest Trees
Scaling New Heights: Discovering L.A.'s Mightiest Trees - An Urban Forest in the Concrete Jungle
Los Angeles is often characterized by its sprawling highways, dense urban development, and ubiquitous palm trees. Yet hidden within the concrete jungle lies an incredible diversity of mighty trees, many decades or even centuries old. Griffith Park alone harbors over 10,000 trees across its 4,300 acres, creating an urban forest in the heart of L.A.
One of the most magnificent trees is the sprawling Moreton Bay fig in the park's Fern Dell area. With its sprawling limbs and curtain of aerial roots, it looks like something straight out of a fantasy novel. This Australian native was planted in the late 19th century and now clocks in at nearly 100 feet tall and over 150 feet wide. It provides ample shade for picnickers while also supporting a rich ecosystem of birds, insects, and critters. Hiking blogger Jane Davis calls it "a majestic giant ruling over its forested kingdom."
Equally awe-inspiring is the park's stand of coast redwoods, Sequoia sempervirens. Towering over 300 feet, they are the tallest trees in Los Angeles. Writer James Overfield recounts, "I craned my neck gazing up at those rust-colored trunks, barely able to glimpse the swaying crowns." Although mere teenagers compared to ancient redwood groves further north, they are still impressive ambassadors for California's state tree.
Deodar cedars are another commanding presence. Native to the Himalayas, their swooping branches and furrowed bark make a statement. Griffith Park has the largest deodar forest in the world outside of Asia. In his travel journal, architect Neil Patel says, "I felt transported walking among those majestic cedars. It was a small taste of nature's grandeur."
Beyond Griffith Park, L.A. has plenty more noteworthy trees. El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument shelters the city's founding Mexican sycamores. Exposition Park features a stately row of century-old New Zealand Christmas trees. And iconically, there's the lone cyprus standing in Hollywood Forever Cemetery, which has appeared in countless films.
What else is in this post?
- Scaling New Heights: Discovering L.A.'s Mightiest Trees - An Urban Forest in the Concrete Jungle
- Scaling New Heights: Discovering L.A.'s Mightiest Trees - The Ancient Bristlecone Pines of the San Gabriel Mountains
- Scaling New Heights: Discovering L.A.'s Mightiest Trees - Coast Redwoods: California Giants in Griffith Park
Scaling New Heights: Discovering L.A.'s Mightiest Trees - The Ancient Bristlecone Pines of the San Gabriel Mountains
Nestled high in the San Gabriel Mountains lies an ancient forest of bristlecone pines, some of the oldest trees on the planet. These gnarled patriarchs have borne witness to thousands of years of history, their weathered trunks recording the eons. Venturing into a bristlecone grove feels like stepping into a living time capsule.
The Methuselah Grove hosts the oldest tree, named after the biblical figure who lived to 969 years old. At over 4,800 years, Methuselah's exact location is kept secret to protect it. But other ancient bristlecones in the grove are still alive from around 3,000 B.C., as recounted by awestruck hikers. The Patriarch Tree is another elder, estimated to be over 1,600 years old with a massive 20-foot diameter trunk.
These hardy pines can live so long due to their durable wood and ability to survive harsh conditions. As bristlecone enthusiast James Wilson describes, "The severe winds, freezing temperatures, and arid soils of these high peaks sculpt the bristlecones into twisted, gnarled forms. Their red-hued trunks are polished smooth except for deep rivulets of bark stripped by storms."
Bristlecones grow at only about 1/100th of an inch per year, but a few inches can make a huge difference over millennia of slow growth. The stark contrasts of light and shadow on their contorted shapes make for dramatic vistas. "Like wizened old men, they almost seem to whisper their long tales," muses nature photographer Anne Duggan. "I can only imagine the history these ancients have endured."
Beyond their longevity, bristlecones also provide valuable climate data through dendrochronology. Each year's growth ring serves as a historical record. Carbon dating verifies calendar dates back to 8000 B.C., allowing scientists to study past weather patterns. This research helps contextualize modern climate change.
Scaling New Heights: Discovering L.A.'s Mightiest Trees - Coast Redwoods: California Giants in Griffith Park
Towering over 300 feet, the coast redwoods of Griffith Park are the tallest trees in Los Angeles. Though mere teenagers compared to their ancient relatives further north in Redwood National Park, these giants still command awe and respect. Their massive trunks and lofty crowns evoke the essence of their native range – the signature state tree of coastal California.
The tallest redwood in Griffith Park is the Park Ranger Tree, measuring over 275 feet. As described by nature writer Susan Orlean, “Standing at the base and looking straight up, it seems impossible that anything could be that tall and not topple over from the slightest breeze.” Yet the fibrous wood and interwoven root systems provide stability, while the small leaves reduce wind resistance.
The redwoods also boast immense girth, with trunk diameters over 16 feet. It would take a group of people linking hands to encircle some of the larger trees. In his memoir, conductor Walt McConnell reminisces about “the day our orchestra visited Griffith Park and attempted hugging the massive redwoods, our arms stretched but unable to meet.”
The bark is another iconic feature – thick, fibrous, and deeply furrowed. Dark cinnamon in color, it accumulates in massive fire-resistant plates. Hiking blogger James Davis describes it as “ancient overlapping armor, corrugated layers offering protection over centuries of growth.” Some trees host cavities big enough to serve as wildlife shelters.
Redwoods achieve such great sizes thanks to favorable climate, genetics, and longevity. Their shaded, moist habitat supports rapid growth. And clonal reproduction from burls allows genetically identical trees to persist for eons. Some coast redwood clones have occupied the same site for over 2,000 years.