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Feature Stories

Colder Weather Is Here But Most Trees Stay Green

From Issue: Volume XX - Number 24
11/30/2012


By Kirt Ramirez

Lakewood's Civic Center Drive
Photo by Kirt Ramirez

Autumn – the time of year when many trees lose their leaves and turn brilliant red and orange colors before winter begins. But Long Beach does not display a drastic change in hues when fall comes around for the most part. Why is this?

The types of trees and shrubs living locally – whether native or non-native – mostly are evergreen; they do not lose their foliage but stay green year-round.

Long Beach does have some trees that turn red – like the non-native liquidambar – but they appear here and there in spotty coverage. This tree is common in the warmer, eastern parts of the U.S. and has star-shaped leaves and green spiky balls that hang like ornaments. The balls turn brown with age and fall off sooner or later.

To see what the greater Long Beach, Los Angeles and Orange County areas used to look like before palm trees and other non-native trees were planted, one could visit the Irvine Ranch Conservancy – a large area of preserved land. Tour guides give free hikes through the rolling hills and educate on the native trees and shrubs.

Jenn Starnes, communications manager for the Irvine Ranch Conservancy, was asked in an e-mail if the Long Beach/Los Angeles/Orange County areas have any native trees that turn red in the fall. She responded:

“Southern California is in a Mediterranean climate zone, which occurs on less than 2% of the earth’s surface. Rather than going through typical winter, spring, summer, fall seasons, Mediterranean climate zones are characterized by warm, dry summers and cold, wet winters.”

“Generally, native plants adapt to this cycle, beginning regrowth in winter and turning dormant in the summer. The dormancy usually results in the plants conserving resources, turning brown or gold during the summer.”

“Many locally-native plants are evergreen, such as the coast live oak and toyon. While these may have slight color changes during the seasons, they are generally unaffected during the year.”

“For example, the toyon is an evergreen shrub that has white flowers in the early summer and red berries in the winter, but the leaves themselves do not change. These winter red berries made early Southern California developers think it was a holly bush, and led to the naming of Hollywood because of the many “holly” bushes found in that area.”

While most trees in Long Beach are evergreen, there is a native tree that loses its hand-shaped leaves – the California sycamore – which appears to be popular in El Dorado Park.

“It is deciduous (loses its leaves), native, and its leaves turn from green to gold in the fall,” Starnes said of the sycamore.

Meanwhile, contrary to popular belief, palm trees are not native to the Long Beach, Los Angeles and Orange County areas.

“Historically, there were no palm trees in Los Angeles, Long Beach or for that matter anywhere else in coastal Southern California,” said Jutta Burger, Ph.D., co-director, science and stewardship for the Irvine Ranch Conservancy, in a June 29, 2012, Beachcomber article debunking SoCal myths.

“Trees that do belong here include the coast live oak, California sycamore, Mexican elderberry and several willow species such as black willow, red willow and arroyo willow. These trees are native to the greater Los Angeles/Orange County areas,” Burger said.
Long Beach’s first palm tree was planted in 1884 by Mrs. O.M. Healy, an early resident, according to documentation at the Historical Society of Long Beach.

kirt@longbeachcomber.com