Balboa Park: The Bunya-Bunya Trees


How can you NOT love that name?

Bunya-bunya trees are evergreens, native to Australia and impossible to confuse with anything else (

Southeastern corner of Golden Hill Park, aka the southeastern corner of Balboa Park

Credit Miss Kate Sessions with their presence in Southern California.

“The name ‘Bunya’ comes from the aboriginal name for the tree, ‘Bon-yi'” (Trees and Gardens of Balboa Park, 2001, Puplava, K. and Sirios, P., p.9).

At 80-110 feet, they are some of the tallest trees in Balboa Park.

How’s that for scale? My wife took this picture while I was exploring a grove near Juniper Street.

The eldest have been in Balboa Park for over a century. In their native country they can live more than 600 years.

Entrance to Golden Hill Park.

Their “tufts” look like pom-poms with attitude ( And their branches are covered in intimidating scales.

Here is a majestic grove on the northeast corner of Balboa Drive and Juniper Street.

Small section of fallen branch.

Here’s another grove lining the southern end of Golden Hill Park.

Entrance to Golden Hill Park.

Can we take a little hope from the shorter, more alive tree in the background?


A fun surprise as I was admiring the Bunya-Bunya above, in Golden Hill Park.


And then there’s this lone Bunya-Bunya at the eastern end of Inspiration Point.

You’ll see this tree’s profile east of the Park Boulevard bridge over I-5.

I broke at least one rule to get to that tree, when I ignored the No Trespassing sign:


How about this comment, posted May 27, 2018, about Balboa Park’s Bunya-Bunya trees?

“I just visited the grove of Bunyas at the south end of Balboa Park in San Diego, and one of the large trees seems to be dead. In addition, to the five or six full sized trees, about 100 years old and 100ft or so, there are also two junior trees, probably fifteen to twenty years old at the most, one of which appears to be dead as well. These trees were probably planted either by Kate Sessions or by Chauncey Jarabek, her successor as San Diego City Arborist. In contrast to to the grove of four or five similarly aged and sized Bunyas at 6th and Ivy, which appear to be quite well watered and fully leaved out, this grove about a mile away and on a sun-exposed promontory overlooking the city, do not appear to be well tended or looked after. A very large and fenced in Morton Bay Fig just across the road (in the park) from them has also died after what may have been a botched trimming. This seems a great shame. There is also a full-grown Bunya at the southern tip of the old Naval Hospital property (which is also a part of Balboa Park), visible from the northbound lanes of I-5, which looks similarly exposed and water-starved. Can nothing be done to better tend these trees? I was told by one of the staff at the Walter Anderson Nursery on Pacific Highway, that there are a number of Bunyas on the Marine Corps Base, and on the Liberty Station property (the old Naval Training Center), but it is the state of the trees in the South-East corner of Balboa Park that concerns me. This is a full-grown adult grove, a rare and valuable civic resource, and they seem to be dead, dying, and visibly unhealthy. What can be done?” (

The sentiment reminds me of one of my favorite statements from the recent, highly publicized Balboa Park Committee meeting February 6, 2020 (

After dozens of people gave detailed lists of “what needed to be addressed” in Balboa Park, one gentleman stood up and said, “The Park is fine. It’s fine. It doesn’t need improving. The Park is fine. It’s fine. Just take care of what’s already there. The Park is fine.”

The room laughed in acknowledgement of the truth underlying his repetition…


The Bunya-Bunyas are a rare treasure in San Diego, and Balboa Park is their best showcase. I hope they are all treated with the same level of care as the Park’s other gems.


Thanks for reading and stay tuned!!

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