How would you like to tour one of the most magnificent urban parks in the United States 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 Balboa Park’s flowering trees. You’ll learn a few fun facts about each and get some surprises along the way.
The Balboa Park trees in bloom during September are:
- Chinese Flame
- African Tulip
- Floss Silk
- Mexican Palo Verde
Location(s) in Balboa Park: Lawn Bowling Greens
These same Firewheel trees were in bloom six months ago. Want proof? Check out this post from March, 2020. https://southparksdblogger.com/2020/03/28/balboa-park-in-bloom-march-2020/
- Native of Australia
- The funkiest “flowers” I’ve ever seen.
You might be thinking, “Wait a minute… those pictures looked almost nothing alike! Are they really the same species of tree?”
Yes, they are. And that’s the fun of Chinese Flame Trees. These trees combine bright yellow flowers with brick red, muted red and pink leaves to create the illusion of a flame.
Location(s) in Balboa Park: Morley Field; Marston Point; El Prado
- Native of Asia
- Alias: Chinese Lantern Tree
Location(s) in Balboa Park: Museum of Natural History; 28th and Beech; International Houses; Marston Point; Morley Field
- Native of Tropical Africa.
- Partly Deciduous (leafless)
- Its flowers have been described as “blazing orange-red” and “sunset-colored, vaguely arachnoid blooms.”
Also known as Kibobakasi, Nandi Flame, and Flame of the Forest, the African Tulip Tree is from Tropical Africa (i.e., West and Central Africa) and “has great mystical significance to some native peoples. The flowers and wood are used in ceremonies by healers and leaders. The leaves, bark, and flowers are used by tribal healers for skin diseases and internal disorders.” (Puplava, p.78).
Location(s) in Balboa Park: Golden Hill Park at 26th Street; Desert Garden; Casa del Prado; Nate’s Point Dog Park
- Native of Brazil and Argentina, or the Tropical and subtropical forests of South America, depending on who you ask.
- Aliases: Cotton Ball Tree. Chorisia speciosa.
Floss silk trees produce kapok, commercially-used to stuff mattresses and cushions, in softball-sized “cotton puffs.”
The mental health counselor in me appreciates clear, unambiguous boundaries. Like this specimen between the Desert and Rose Gardens, many floss silk trees make it clear how they feel about any attempt to climb their trunk.
Location(s) in Balboa Park: Alcazar Garden
- Native of Ireland
- Alias: Marina Madrone
“Why is it named ‘Strawberry’ Tree?”
Glad you asked. Check out its fruit.
Mexican Palo Verde
Location(s) in Balboa Park: Desert Garden; Balboa Park Club.
- Native of Southwestern United States and Mexico.
- Deciduous (leafless)
- Aliases: Jerusalem Thorn.
Location in Balboa Park: Park Boulevard and Zoo Place
The trees pictured above were planted in 1992 and are the only Chitalpas in the Park. Technically the name is written “x Chitalpa” to indicate the tree is a hybrid. Its name reflects its hybrid history, as “Chitalpa” is a blend of the “parents” names of Catalpa and Chilopsis.
- Native of Uzbekistan. How’s that for unique? This hybrid tree was developed in the city of Tashkent in 1964 and introduced to California in the early ’90s.
- Alias: Pink Dawn
Location(s) in Balboa Park: Museum of Natural History; Former Hall of Champions; in front of a beautiful old Administration Building in a back corner that you’ll never find unless you’re intensely curious about every square foot of the Park.. .
- Native of Tropical Africa.
- Aliases: Gold Markhamia; Yellow Bell Bean Tree.
Location(s) in Balboa Park: Lawn Bowling Greens; Prado Restaurant lawn; Old Globe Way; International Houses.
- Native of Mexico and Central America.
- Aliases: Yellow Oleander; Lucky Nut.
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 of flora from around the world provides an ever-changing display of color and form on a scale you won’t find anywhere else.
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.