How would you like to tour a magnificent urban forest without looking up from your phone?
Balboa Park contains thousands of beautiful trees from around the world. Towering giants and quirky flora from Australia, South and Central America, South Africa, India, and China thrive in San Diego’s Mediterranean climate.
Join me in a look at this month’s flowering trees. You’ll learn a few fun facts about each and enjoy a couple surprises along the way.
The Balboa Park trees in bloom during the month of March are:
- Naked Coral
- South African Coral
- Trumpets (Pink and Golden)
- Australian Willow
- Bailey Acacia
- Flowering Peach
- Flowering Plum
- Western Redbud
- Australian Tea
- Saucer Magnolia
- Sweet Michelia
- Brazilian Coral
These deciduous natives of Mexico were voted the official flowering tree for the City of Los Angeles in 1966. They are called “Naked” because their leaves drop in fall and they are minimally clothed for months until blooms appear. (Trees and Gardens of Balboa Park, 2001, Puplava, K. and Sirios, P., p.30)
Locations: Desert Garden (east of Park Boulevard, just south of Zoo Place); San Diego Zoo entrance (north side of Zoo Place); Inspiration Point parking lot entrance; Morley Field parking lot at Texas Street.
You can distinguish Naked Corals from other Coral Trees by their spike-laden trunks and limbs. They gently encourage tree-climbers to take their business elsewhere.
South African Coral
Yes, another coral tree. These deciduous stunners are native to Mozambique and coastal South Africa. The generic name comes from the Greek Erythros, for the color red. Corals produce “perfect flowers”, which contain both male and female parts (Trees and Gardens of Balboa Park, 2001, Puplava, K. and Sirios, P., p.29).
Locations: Perimeter of the San Diego Zoo parking lot, and east of Balboa Drive north of Laurel Street.
A fun feature of Balboa Park’s most vivid trees is that they bloom before leafing out.
Notice the smooth bark on this South African Coral compared to the Naked Coral’s.
Trumpet (Pink and Golden)
These deciduous natives of Central and South America are members of the bignonia family. Like many stunning Southern California trees, trumpet trees drop their leaves in fall and offer spectacular blooms from late winter until their leaves appear in spring.
Locations: Desert Garden, north of pedestrian bridge; Morley Field, north of tennis courts; west side of San Diego Zoo parking lot; Balboa Park Golf Course Clubhouse parking lot on Golf Course Drive; Old Globe courtyard.
Locations: Morley Field, north of tennis courts.
You can guess the country of origin. They only receive six to fifteen inches of rain a year in their native habitat and their water-filled leaves are fire resistant.
Location(s): North side of President’s Way, south of Organ Pavilion parking lot.
This deciduous native of India and China produces pink, purple, white and variegated flowers. The tree carries common names, Mountain Ebony and Purple Camel’s Foot, reflective of the trees’ dark wood and leaf shape, respectively (Trees and Gardens of Balboa Park, 2001, Puplava, K. and Sirios, P., p. 12).
Locations: West side of Lawn Bowling Greens; West of Balboa Drive, just south of El Prado and Kate Sessions’ statue; East side of San Diego Zoo parking lot.
The Tree Man of San Diego, Chauncy Jerabek, wrote that the “tree with the beautiful fern-like, silvery blue-green foliage is Acacia Baileyana from New South Wales” (Plant Life of Balboa Park, C. Jerabek, , 1938, p.2).
Acacias have been residents of Balboa Park for decades. They are also called a Cootamundra Wattle and Golden Mimosa Tree (Trees and Gardens of Balboa Park, 2001, Puplava, K. and Sirios, P., p.1).
Locations: Perimeter of Organ Pavilion parking lot; southwest corner of Lawn Bowling Greens; behind Puppet Theater; west side of Park Boulevard just north of President’s Way.
A Visit with An Old Friend
This red-eared slider, along the Lily Pond’s eastern edge, asked to be filmed with the Botanical Building as background. The ancient reptile explained that selfies are difficult to take with those webbed feet.
Peaches are native to China, though they have since made their way through Persia and received a latin name (“persica”) to honor the journey. Growing a peach tree near one’s front door was thought to bring good luck (https://archive.org/details/historyofgardens00chri/page/57).
Location: International Cottages; Balboa Drive north of Quince.
These can be found on Old Globe Way.
These evergreen members of the Protea family are native to Australia and produce some of the funkiest flowers on the planet. Their name is apt.
Location: North and East side of Lawn Bowling greens.
Native to California, Arizona and Utah, the quality of their springtime flower displays is dependent on deep waterings in the preceding months.
Locations: West of Balboa Drive, just north of Redwood Circle; East side of Lawn Bowling greens, just south of the Lawn Bowling Club.
These evergreen natives of Australia adapted to their original habitat by growing sideways and releasing their seeds en masse when damaged or burned (https://florabase.dpaw.wa.gov.au/browse/profile/5850).
Their trunks are the inspiration for roller coaster designs…
These natives of France are also called Chinese Magnolias (how does that work?) and come in a variety of colors and shades.
Location(s): northwest corner of Balboa Drive and Quince Street; east side of Balboa Drive south of Laurel.
Native of China and the Western Himalayas, where it is a valuable timber tree.
Their flowers’ smell is something you have to experience firsthand.
Locations: Federal Building (soon to be Comic-Con Museum); northwest of the intersection of Balboa Drive and Quince Street; just east of Nate’s Dog Park.
- Its fancy name comes from the word for sickle, after the blooms’ shape.
- Seeds are poisonous. Not fun, exactly, but good to know.
- It’s also called a Parrot’s Beak due to the shape of its blooms.
Location(s) in Balboa Park: West Mesa – southwest of the Marston house.
Listed as “Evergreen to Partly Deciduous” by UFEI and “Semi-Evergreen” by Kathy Puplava. I’ll call it semi-partly everdeciduous.
Are you enjoying this tour of the Park? Then check out this EXCLUSIVE post about one of Balboa Park’s most interesting characters and his detailed tour of Balboa Park’s flora… from over 80 years ago.
Balboa Park’s gorgeous and diverse flora are a year-round treasure hidden in plain sight.
Fascinating and funky trees have been a feature of Balboa Park ever since 1892, when Kate Sessions leased space along 6th Avenue for her nursery business.
The panoply from around the world provides an ever-changing display of color and form on a scale you won’t find anywhere else.
Different species are in bloom every month, so there are new trees to recognize year-round.
Thanks for reading and stay tuned!!
2. Kathy Puplava and Paul Sirois, Trees and Gardens of Balboa Park, (San Diego, CA: Tecolote Publications, 2001).
3. Too many issues of California Garden magazine to list and still enjoy my day. Contact me for details.