Tom’s Garden

Growing by the Bay

Category: trees

Cotinus coggygria ‘Purpureus’

Cotinus coggygria 'Purpureus' (Smoketree)

Cotinus coggygria ‘Purpureus’ (Smoketree).

Acca sellowiana (Pineapple Guava)

Cunonia capensis

Cunonia capensis, Butterknife Tree

Stipule of Cononia capensis, Butterknife Tree.

Stipule of Cunonia capensis, Butterknife Tree.

Some leafstalks are marked by outgrowths at the base, usually on opposite sides. These were named stipules by Linnaeus, from the Latin word stipula, meaning “straw” or “stalk.” Not all plants have stipules, and among those that do, they vary greatly in appearance “and might appear as glands, scales, hairs, spines, or laminar (leaf-like) structures.” The remarkable, conspicuous stipules of Cunonia capensis, the African Red Alder, or Butterspoon or Butterknife Tree, are a focal point in the garden, almost always remarked upon by people who see them for the first time. The paired stipules are reddish in color and pressed together like cupped hands — or like butterspoons, I guess, whatever those are. (I say “butterknife” rather than “butterspoon.” I can see how the stipules are spoonlike, but I don’t apply my butter with a spoon, do you?)

An evergreen multistemmed perennial shrub or small tree from South Africa, this is one of my favorite specimen plants. I used to have several that I lost in our severe, years-long drought. The plant doesn’t need constant water, but it doesn’t like being dry, and I was careless (or all too responsible a California citizen). It also dislikes heat, and I’m now growing this one in a large container in part shade. While the tree can reach thirty feet in damp forests, it is seldom seen above fifteen feet in the open. Several sources report that it can be kept for many years in a container, and this has been my experience. It grows in zones 9–11 and prefers good drainage.

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Crabapple blossoms.

The prettiest fruiting tree blossoms

Crabapple blossoms, March 2017.

Crabapple blossoms, March 2017.

Crabapple, hands down.

Ornamental plub blossoms.

Ornamental Plum Blossoms

Ornamental plub blossoms.

Ornamental plum blossoms.

After many years of working with color professionally, I know how to remove a color cast. But I like the blue cast here, and decided to leave it.

Raindrops on Ficus religiosa (Buddha Tree) leaf.

Raindrops on Buddha Tree leaf


Raindrops on Ficus religiosa (Buddha Tree) leaf.

Raindrops on Ficus religiosa (Buddha Tree) leaf.

It’s great to get a little rain in these drought-stricken parts, even if the precipitation totals from this mild storm are likely to be modest. In the pale autumn light I was struck by the beauty of the raindrops on the Ficus religiosa (Buddha Tree).

“The rain falls equally on all things.” According to Jack Kornfield, that is a “Zen saying.” If so, it might have been inspired in part by a passage in the Lotus Sutra, which says that “The Buddha appears here in the world like a great cloud universally covering all things … like the all-enriching rain.”

The historical Buddha is said to have gained enlightenment when he meditated under one of these trees, also known as Bodhi, Bo, or Peepal Trees. The place where his enlightenment occurred is today an important pilgrimage site,  known as Bodh Gaya, in the Indian state of Bihar.  It features trees said to be descendants of that one.

Though the rain may come down equally, regardless of what it falls on, some plants, of course, need more of it than others. The Buddha Tree is a kind of fig (it’s a broadleaf evergreen in the Moraceae family). It prefers hot, humid weather. Nonetheless, it’s doing pretty well in a container despite our cool dry summers (and despite the Sunset Western Garden book thinking it doesn’t grow in this zone). Not withstanding its preference for humidity, it is said to resent overwatering. This plant is maybe six or seven years old. I got it as a gift, as a seedling in a four-inch container. I continue to grow it in a container because in the ground it can reach a height of 100 feet or more.

In traditional South and East Asian medicine, the leaves and bark are used for a variety of ailments. But contact can cause an allergic reaction in some people.

According to the Missouri Botanical Garden, “The oldest plant in the world of known planting date is the Ficus religiosa tree called Sri Maha Bodhi which was planted at the temple at Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka, in 288 B. C. Today the bo tree is revered as a symbol for prosperity, happiness, good fortune and long life.”

Ficus religiosa in container.

Ficus religiosa in container.


Persimmon harvest

Harvested persimmons.

Harvested persimmons.

Generous persimmon harvest again this year. All from one tree.

I could get a couple more bins like these, but I think I have enough! Got to leave some for the squirrels and birds, right?

Persimmon-laden branch.

Persimmon-laden branch.

Crabapple blossoms

Crabapple Blossoms

Crabapple blossoms

The crabapple is one of my favorite small trees, offering interest year round. But never moreso than in the early spring when it produces beautiful blossoms like these. The plum blossoms first, and the crabapple maybe a couple of weeks later.




We inherited the lemon tree from a previous resident. We’ve been here for decades and have never bought a lemon since moving in.


Plum blossoms


Here in the SF Bay area, our seasons occur on the cross-quarters. The equinox is more mid-spring than the beginning of spring. Our spring starts with the cross-quarter: Candlemas, Groundhog’s Day, Lunar New Year, Imbolc, whatever you want to call it. Where I live, plum blossoms and quinces announce the change in the season.

What actually inspired me to take this photo was the golden morning light on the grasses behind my library buildings.


November persimmons


I like the fall color of the persimmon.

I left several persimmons on the round table under the umbrella to the right of the tree. I came home to find six — S I X ! ! ! — deer all in a circle around the table contentedly chewing on persimmons.

When I went out to shoo them away they gave me an aggrieved look. And then they all grabbed a persimmon to take with them as they ran away.

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