Balboa Park in Bloom: December

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.

Different species are in bloom every month, so there are new trees to recognize year-round.

Join me in a look at Balboa Park’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 December are:

  • Firewheel
  • Orchid
  • Beestill
  • African Tulip



Location(s) in Balboa Park: Lawn Bowling Greens

  • Native of Australia
  • Evergreen
  • The funkiest “flowers” you’ll find in the park.


Scavenger Hunt

So many beautiful places in the park to enjoy. Do you know where to find this lovely view?



  • The tree has religious significance to Buddhists.
  • The flowers are cooked and pickled in some countries.
  • The bark has been used medicinally.

  • Location(s) in Balboa Park: West Mesa, around Kate Session statue, west side of lawn Bowling Greens. East Mesa, east side of Zoo parking lot.
  • Deciduous.
  • Aliases: Variegated Orchid Tree, Purple Orchid Tree, Mountain Ebony, Butterfly Tree, Purple Camel’s Foot
  • Native to: India and China


A Word about Pepper Trees…

Two species of Pepper Tree, Peruvian and Brazilian, dominate San Diego’s landscape. Both are located all over the park, however the best place to observe them side-by-side, for contrast, is the “Pepper Grove” Playground on Park Boulevard, just north of the Centro Cultural de La Raza.

Peruvian Pepper Tree

Aliases: Pepper Tree, California Pepper Tree.

Native of: South America, though they’ve been planted in SoCal so long, they’re considered Californians now.


Brazilian Pepper Tree

Aliases: Christmas Berry, Nani-O-Hilo, Wilelaiki.

Native of: your guess is as good as mine.



Location(s) in Balboa Park: Prado Restaurant lawn; Old Globe Way; Lawn Bowling Greens.

  • Native of Mexico and Central America.
  • Evergreen.
  • Aliases: Yellow Oleander; Lucky Nut.


African Tulip

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).



Red Flowering Gum

A lovely offering by this loner near Sefton Plaza.


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.

3 thoughts on “Balboa Park in Bloom: December

  1. Gorgeous blast of color! Thanks very much. We here in the PNW are dealing with record-breaking rains and lots of grey skies, so your photos are especially appreciated today. An aside – my moss gardens have never looked better :)!

    Liked by 1 person

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