Santa Monica is home to an impressive urban forest, for which both residents and city employees should be proud. However, many of these trees are nearing the end of their useful lifespan and will need to be replaced in the next few years.
Many of these trees are on city property, so they’ll be replaced by local governmental agencies, but many others are on private property. In such cases, homeowners will soon be faced with deciding what new species to install. A couple of dozen different species are well-suited for Santa Monica and the rest of Southern California, but that doesn’t mean they’re all equally appropriate – there are a number of considerations that determine a tree’s applicability for a location.
The Problem with Low Diversity
Things like size, preferred sun exposure and growth rate are all obvious considerations for urban trees, but an important, and often overlooked criteria is the popularity of the species. Cities with relatively homogeneous tree canopies (those comprised primarily of only a few species) are at high risk to disease, drought, pests and other potential threats. Conversely, cities that have extraordinarily diverse canopies rarely suffer as much during difficult times.
For example, many eastern cities began planting American elms in the latter part of the 19th Century and the beginning of the 20th Century. Beloved for their graceful, vase-like growth habit, they were often planted along both sides of city streets to form a sort of canopy over the roads. In several cities, American elms formed the bulk of the tree canopy.
Unfortunately, Dutch elm disease – a fungal disease spread by bark beetles – arrived in North America around 1928. Once established, the disease made quick work of many mature elms, and because many of these cities were disproportionately populated by a single species, devastation quickly ensued. Within a few years, crews were busy removing one dying and dangerous tree after another. If these cities had simply had more diversity, their losses would have been mitigated.
Accordingly, it is wise for Santa Monica homeowners to familiarize themselves with the most common trees and avoid them in favor of drought-resistant trees that are not as common.
The Five Most Common Street Trees in the City
The following five species are the most common within Santa Monica, according to the city’s tree inventory. Insofar as it is practical to do so, try to avoid planting these species in favor of less common species. Note that there is nothing wrong with any of these species; they are simply so common that they contribute to a reduction in canopy diversity.
- Mexican fan palm (Washingtonia robusta)
- Indian laurel (Ficus microcarpa)
- Southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora)
- Canary Island date palm (Phoenix canariensis)
- Fern pine (Podocarpus macrophyllus)
Five Better Options
Consider installing some of the following species if you are looking to add a new tree to your property, or if it becomes necessary to replace trees already growing. All of these are well-suited trees for Santa Monica, and they’ll contribute to more diversity in the city.
- Chinese pistache (Pistacia chinensis) – The Chinese pistache is a medium-sized, drought-resistant tree that grows well in poor soils and provides glorious fall color.
- Maidenhair tree (Gingko biloba) — Also known as gingko trees, maidenhairs are great choices for city lots large enough to accommodate them, as they tolerate restricted soil spaces, pollution and periodic drought. Just be sure you acquire only female trees, as the males produce copious quantities of allergenic pollen.
- Giant Yucca (Yucca gigantea) – While not a true tree, the giant yucca is a great, drought-resistant plant for Santa Monica properties that exhibits a tree-like growth habit and reaches 20 to 30 feet in height.
- Monterey pine (Pinus radiata) – Monterey pines are drought-resistant, evergreen trees that are native to the state of California. Monterey pines occasionally reach 100 feet in height and they exhibit a relatively rapid growth rate, making them a good choice for those in need of quick shade.
- Strawberry Tree (Arbutus unedo) — If you’re looking for a fruit-bearing tree that will survive in Santa Monica’s Mediterranean climate, it is hard to beat the 30-foot-tall strawberry tree.
Deciding the best trees for your property can be a challenging endeavor, so don’t be afraid to reach out for help. If you are considering adding some new trees to your Santa Monica property, contact your friends at Evergreen Arborist Consultants, and let us help guide you through the decision-making process.