This Old Tree Is Actually the Most Unpretentious Bernal Heights Native You’ll Ever Meet

San Francisco natives like to talk about the fact that they were born here. It’s like they’re a rare species threatened by invasives on their little peninsula. If trees could talk, this blue elderberry (Sambucus mexicana) would probably give you an earful about it, too.

“The tree is believed to be a genetic remnant of San Francisco’s original flora, pre-(European) settlement,” explains Mei Ling Hui, the Urban Forest Coordinator from San Francisco’s Department of the Environment. “People think the seed it grew from was unearthed and sprouted after the road was cut around Bernal Hill as part of a WPA project.”

Okay, so it’s not a majestic-looking tree — it kind of looks like a big bush. But it’s an important one to the City. In fact, it’s one of San Francisco’s landmark trees. The Landmark Tree Program protects the city’s old, interesting, or special trees. We have lots of nice trees in San Francisco, but like many of our nice humans, most of them aren’t from here.

Bernal’s blue elderberry is like a time capsule. When you look up at it — it’s in the tangle of blackberries where Folsom dead-ends into Bernal Heights Blvd. on the north side of the hill — narrow your vision a little. Ignore the eucalyptus, and the radio tower, and the airplanes going by, and treat yourself to a glimpse of really old San Francisco.

7 thoughts on “This Old Tree Is Actually the Most Unpretentious Bernal Heights Native You’ll Ever Meet

  1. Very cool. If that’s an example of native trees, it certainly explains why early European/American reports of this place describe a barren stretch of sand dunes, and why they had to go across the bay to get firewood.

  2. Fantastic post! so interesting! Who’d have thought such a humble little tangle of scruffy branches would boast such a deep pedigree!

  3. Trees rock! Native trees aren’t always the most attractive, but always the most interesting. (Hi, Mei Ling, it’s Alexis!)

    Although a different entity than the Dept of the Env., the people at Friends of the Urban Forest rock, too. We planted a Cow Itch/Primrose tree in front of our house with a neighborhood planting of theirs and it makes the streetscape so much more… livable.

  4. I actually know a Bernalite that’s more of a dumb SoCal girl along with her Saint Ignatius alumni friends. Though her parents are the pretentious ones.

  5. Thanks for this post, Molly! As I am an introduced specimen, I loved that comment.

    p.s. Hi, Alexis!

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