Since 1981, Friends of the Urban Forest has planted about 60,000 trees. We’ve always done our best to identify, obtain, and plant species that are suitable for use as street trees, are likely to thrive in our climate and conditions, and provide significant benefits for the environment, the urban infrastructure, and the health of San Franciscans.
We plant a few native species, such as the Coast Live Oak (Quercus agrifolia) and California Buckeye (Aesculus californica), but other natives don’t fit the requirements for street trees, such as the ability to thrive in small basins or allow certain clearances for pedestrians and vehicles. Therefore we have sourced non-native tree species that can thrive in local conditions; most come from other places with “Mediterranean” climates like ours.
Our overall tree “palette” includes several dozen species. Species biodiversity is valuable in part because it means that a smaller portion of the overall urban forest is susceptible to any particular pest or disease. It’s also useful because San Francisco has a diversity of microclimates, and a species that does well in one planting site might not do well in another due to differences in sun, wind, soil quality, overhead wires, and other factors. Last but not least, we invite San Franciscans to participate in the selection of the species that will be planted adjacent to their homes, and by offering a variety of options we can increase the likelihood that they’ll get trees they love. A city that loves its urban forest is a city that supports and cares for its urban forest!
The 10 tree species we have planted most often in the past decade meet these criteria. They are:
- Small-Leaf Tristania (Tristaniopsis laurina)
- Bronze Loquat (Eriobotrya deflexa)
- Strawberry (Arbutus x ‘Marina’)
- Flowering Cherry (Prunus serrulata ‘Kwanzan’)
- Little Gem Magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora ‘Little Gem’)
- Olive (Olea europaea)
- Primrose (Lagunaria patersonii)
- Brisbane Box (Lophostemon confertus)
- Fern Pine (Afrocarpus gracilior)
- New Zealand Christmas Tree (Metrosideros excelsa)
If you live in San Francisco, we invite you to photograph any of these species and post your pics on social media with the hashtag #SFtop10trees.
To learn more about each species, just click the links above. You can learn about other common San Francisco street trees with our Urban Tree Species Directory.
The SelecTree guide from the CalPoly Urban Forest Ecosystems Institute is another useful resource for info about our urban tree species.
And the PictureThis app is like a “botanist in your pocket” because it can help you identify plant species you encounter in your travels ($30 per year after free seven-day trial).