trees love light: photos of trees in golden gate park at the botanical garden


A beautiful exhibit of photographs by local photographer, Steve Kane, opened in the library of the San Francisco Botanical Garden in Golden Gate Park last night and will be on view through April, 2014.   Don’t miss this one!  Using a digital camera and various software programs Kane focuses on trees in the park.  The California Buckeye  (Aesculus californica) pictured above is just one example.  To see more, visit Steve Kane’s website at

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Woodpeckers in Golden Gate Park?

Here’s a helpful article for identifying woodpeckers you may see in Golden Gate Park, especially now that winter makes them more visible (from the website Bay Nature).

Which Species of Woodpecker Can You Find in Golden Gate Park?     by Alessandra Bergamin (January 09, 2014)

Acorn woodpecker

An acorn woodpecker working at its Granary. Acorn Woodpeckers harvest acorns and store them for lean times by drilling holes in the tree and stuffing the acorns in. This woodpecker is removing an acorn from its granary. Photo: Chuq Von Rospach.

Frank Aoyama sent in this week’s Ask the Naturalist about a bird you often hear before you see: “I hear woodpeckers in Golden Gate Park. What species live in the park?”

The downy woodpecker is the most common species in the park, says naturalist David Lukas, and can be found year round. This small, black and white checkered bird—males have a bold, red patch on the back of their head—is an acrobatic forager and commonly found in parks and by backyard feeders.

Male downey woodpecker

A male downy woodpecker. Photo: Kelly Colgan Azar.

Over the past ten years, the hairy woodpecker has begun breeding in the park and can be found year round. Although larger than the downy woodpecker both species share the same coloring. The hairy woodpecker however wields a longer bill than a downy and has a more cleanly striped black-and-white head. Males also possess a patch of red towards the back of their head.

female hairy woodpecker

A female hairy woodpecker. Photo: David Maher

Northern flickers are the most common and the easiest to see in winter at Golden Gate Park, said Alan Hopkins from the Golden Gate Audubon Society. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, northern flickers possess a “gentle expression and handsome black-scalloped plumage.” The undersides of the wing and tail feathers are red for those found in the West and bright yellow for those in the East. While woodpeckers can often be seen hoisted halfway up a tree, flickers prefer a diet of ants and beetles, digging them out of the ground with their slightly curved beak.

"Northern Flicker"

A northern flicker finds lunch among the ants and beetles. Photo: Mike Deal.

Nuttall’s woodpecker can be found year round in Golden Gate Park but is the least common of three. A small, black and white woodpecker, Nuttall’s is primarily found in California’s oak woodlands.

male nuttall's

A male Nuttall’s woodpecker with a insect on its tongue. Photo: Alan Vernon.

The red-breasted sapsucker is rarer and often harder to find in the park, says Lukas. Medium sized with a red head and breast, sapsuckers drill small holes in the tree bark (banksia trees are a favorite) to make the sap run. “Hippy Hill at Sharon Meadows and the Botanical Gardens are good places to look,” advises Hopkins.

red-breasted sapsucker

Red-breasted sapsucker. Photo: Richard Griffin.

The acorn woodpecker is an irruptive species that experiences huge population spikes when food is widely available. During such an irruption, their numbers will rise at the park before dropping once again. They can normally be found in the non-breeding season. “When they are in the park they are almost always found in the Oak Woodlands near Conservatory Drive or near the AIDS Dell,” Hopkins said.

acorn woodpecker

An acorn woodpecker story a found nut. Photo: Allan Hack.

“A good place to look for woodpeckers in the park is around the Chain of Lakes and the Bison Paddock,” added Alan Hopkins from the Golden Gate Audubon Society.

via Which Species of Woodpecker Can You Find in Golden Gate Park? « Bay Nature.

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The Very Old Hospital in Golden Gate Park

Here’s an interesting bit of Golden Gate Park history, courtesy of

“Tucked in the parking lot of Kezar Stadium is the Park Emergency Hospital. Originally built in 1902 as the first permanent emergency hospital in San Francisco, it’s since been used as an ambulance station and offices. It was listed as Local Landmark #201 in 1991.

The city’s emergency hospital services dates back to 1872 when it was located in the basement of City Hall, but didn’t have it’s first permanent, freestanding building until the Park Emergency Hospital was built in 1902. It was designed by Newton J. Tharp, who as City Architect designed a whole slew of firehouses, schools, and the basic plan for SF General Hospital. The building was constructed by park employees and was the first publicly funded service of its kind in the country – at that time it was pretty revolutionary to have city medical services out in the neighborhoods where people lived and offer ambulance services, instead of having to schlep down to City Hall.

[Park Emergency Hospital c1902, photo via UC Berkeley via Cole Valley Alley]

The plan backfired a bit when the 1906 Earthquake and Fire struck – the hospital was almost instantly damaged, as the main entry way collapsed. The staff grabbed whatever supplies they could and opened a temporary hospital in the park tunnel near Haight and Stanyan. Doctors set up large Army tents in the field next to the damaged Emergency Hospital building and treated patients there. The building was reconstructed using stone from other buildings downtown that also collapsed.

[Park Emergency Hospital after 1906 Earthquake, photo via SF Rec & Park via Cole Valley Alley]

(Fun fact: the building can be seen in 1971′s Dirty Harry, when Scorpio visits the hospital after being stabbed by Harry at Mt Davidson.)

[Park Emergency Hospital in Dirty Harry, photo via Dirty Harry Filming Locations]

The emergency hospital closed in 1978, but continued to be uses as a station house for ambulance crews. It was transferred to Rec and Park in 1990 and they use it for the offices for the Natural Areas and Volunteer Programs. The whole place got a nip-tuck in 2010.”

· Local Landmark #201 [SF Planning]

· GGP Park Aid Station Renovation [SF Rec & Park]

· Park Emergency Hospital [Dirty Harry Filming Locations]

via The Landmarks: The Very Old Hospital in Golden Gate Park – The Landmarks – Curbed SF.

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people-watching in Golden Gate Park, 1888


People-watching is a popular, free entertainment that has been available in Golden Gate Park since it first opened to the public in the 1870s.  Here’s one observer’s report on the show that was running on Oct. 8, 1888 (San Francisco Chronicle).

“Golden Gate Park was crowded yesterday with the gayest and best of the city’s population.   .   .   .   There is hardly a public recreation ground in the country that affords as many advantages for pleasure-seekers as the Golden Gate Park of San Francisco.  Leaving the flowers, trees, music and kaleidoscopic views of rare beauty out of the question, there are plenty of other things to occupy one’s mind and eyes.

There is the young man who has borrowed his friend’s horse and who braves the galling of a humble part of his anatomy that he may be seen, admired, and mayhap adored by the hundreds of fair women who go to the park and pine and pine and pine to adore something or somebody.  The horse on which the young man bobs like the lightsome cork that marks the nibble of the finny beauty beneath the cold waters of river or bay knows the lowest thread in the youth’s trousers does but reach a half inch below his knee;  it knows his necktie has broken loose from its patent holder and has joined the wilting collar in a struggle to get over the rider’s ears;  it knows he is being turned inside out and upside down and back and across;  it knows his arms are sticking out in a wild, unromantic and unhorsemanlike manner and that everybody shares the knowledge, but it will not “whoa there, boy, whoa there.”  It dances and prances and gets the bottoms of the rider’s trousers nearer his knees and gives those who go out to see, admire and adore something worthy of fixed attention.

Then there’s the couple who have got to do their courting in public places and heavens how practice has made them perfect in it and oblivious to the fact that they furnish amusement when the horseman has passed out of sight.  With an audacity that causes the teeth of the lawnmower to grind in agony, those spoons march (that’s the word) up and down, obtruding their love-sickness on everybody and calling attention to the state to which the courtship has progressed by the easy, natural and unconcerned way in which he keeps his arm around her waist and she puts her head on his shoulder.  In every well-regulated household there is a drawer or a case or a box for spoons.  In every park there should be a lovers’ lane or adorers’ asylum, or sweethearts’ stroll or some such thing where the billing and cooing of those goslings may not offend the married men and make cynics of us all.

One has hardly time to wipe one’s glasses in order to get the last glance at that waist-containing arm before the man with the new act gets into focus.  He gets in and stays there a long while, as if loath to tear himself away from a spot where there are so many people to look at him.  Some men wear new clothes as if they were decorations of a high and rare order.  They seem to think that their suits are the only clothes in the park and would feel mortally offended if even their best friend asked them for what tailor they were doing the dummy act.  The observer cannot help seeing how the man with the new clothes gives his vest a gentle pull, administers an affectionate pat to the lapel of his coat, or adjusts the fit of the trousers by a movement not unlike that of an ophidian when getting rid of the last few inches of yesteryear’s overcoat.  The man with the new clothes is a prominent factor in the amusement of the plain, ordinary dyspeptics who go to the park for the sole purpose of finding fault with everything and everybody.  .  . “

People-watching in the park has surely changed over time, but some things remain constant.  Stay tuned for more reports.

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Closing the park overnight

Camping in Golden Gate Park, May 29, 1906. (SFPL, Historical Photographs)

Camping in Golden Gate Park, May 29, 1906. (SFPL, Historical Photographs)

This week the San Francisco Board of Supervisors approved a long-discussed plan to close the park to the public from midnight to 5 a.m., citing vandalism and dumping as concerns.  City leaders approve overnight park closure plan |

Opponents of this decree, primarily human rights activists, say this is a thinly disguised attempt to prevent homeless people from sleeping in the park.  It’s interesting to put this debate in historical perspective.  Since the first public park opened in this country, i.e. Central Park in New York, overnight camping in parks has vexed public officials.  Partly, this problem is due to a certain duplicity in the design of parks like this.  They are meant to look and function like nature in the city, i.e. they replicate just the sort of place that is ideal for camping out.  Here is an amusing excerpt from the New York Times that illuminates the nature, and persistence, of the problem:

“Officer Meaney yesterday, while on duty in the upper portion of Central Park, espied a large bonfire blazing brightly in the woods. He approached the burning pile, and was astonished to discover a middle-aged man, apparently immersed in deep thought, standing with his back to the burning brushwood, warming his coat-tails, and seemingly unconscious of his surroundings and position. In close proximity to the bonfire was a curiously-constructed hut, built without any regard for architectural design, and composed merely of several rough-hewn logs of wood, mingled with freshly-cut branches of trees, which, being entwined around the logs, helped to support and brace them. In this romantic residence, the interior of which contained neither furniture nor bedding, the stranger had determined to reside, at least temporarily, away from the strife and busy turmoil of the great Metropolis.”  (New York Times, Dec. 28, 1877)



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sudden oak death found in golden gate park

Doug Schmidt takes samples from coastal live oak believed to have been killed by sudden oak death in Golden Gate Park. Photo: Brant Ward/The Chronicle SF

‘The number of oak trees in California that died from the virulent forest disease known as sudden oak death has increased tenfold in just a year’s time as the pathogen spread into several new parts of the Bay Area, including San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, biologists revealed this week.

Aerial and ground surveys conducted by the U.S. Forest Service documented 375,700 new cases of dead live oak and tan oak trees over 54,400 acres of California where the pathogen is known to exist. That’s compared to 38,000 dead trees covering 8,000 acres a year ago.

The sudden increase in deaths is believed to have been caused by two years of abnormally high rainfall followed by this year’s dry weather.

The pattern is one that scientists at the UC Berkeley Forest Pathology and Mycology Laboratory foresaw last year when the deadly microbe was detected in woodlands and residential areas throughout the Bay Area. The area of infection expanded even more this year, said Matteo Garbelotto, the forest pathologist who heads the lab.

Sudden oak death, discovered in Mill Valley in 1995, exists in forests and wildlands in 14 California counties and in Curry County, Ore. It kills big oak trees and the smaller understory tan oaks, which have been ravaged in portions of Big Sur, Jack London State Park in Sonoma County, China Camp State Park in Marin County and the Marin Municipal Water District watershed lands near Mount Tamalpais. Scientists fear the pathogen could one day wipe out all of the state’s live and tan oaks.

The disease, known scientifically as Phytophthora ramorum, has 107 susceptible host plants. Infected California bay laurels are the most effective spreaders of the deadly microbe, but such common garden ornamentals as camellias and rhododendrons can also spread the pathogen to oaks.

Samples from California bay laurels and other host plants taken by volunteers around the Bay Area show that the pathogen’s spores are virtually everywhere in the hills of Burlingame and other parts of the Peninsula, and the infection has spread farther into residential areas of the East Bay hills, and Napa and Sonoma counties.

The microbe was even found in neighborhoods on the outskirts of Santa Cruz and, most surprising of all, in a cluster of three trees near Middle Lake, in the southwest corner of Golden Gate Park, near Sunset Boulevard.

The source of the San Francisco infection, which has yet to kill any trees, is a mystery given that there are no nurseries nearby spreading the disease like there were several years ago when the pathogen was last detected in the park near the AIDS Memorial Grove, Garbelotto said.

“The area doesn’t have a lot of oaks, so I’m not worried about oaks there, but I’m worried about other plants being infected and, of course, people carrying it on their shoes,” Garbelotto said. “It’s puzzling that we found it there because it’s a totally urban environment, and I really didn’t expect it. It shows how complicated and adaptable this organism is.”‘

via Explosive growth in sudden oak death – SFGate.

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native plant strikes again


“Three San Francisco cops remain on disability after suffering “severe” reactions to poison oak during a Sept. 9 scuffle with a tree-branch-wielding homeless man in Golden Gate Park, police said Thursday.  The incident erupted about 9:15 a.m. when transient William Deegan, 39, became violent with a park ranger who approached him in a forested area near Transverse Drive. The ranger was reportedly trying to cite Deegan for illegally camping in the park. During a struggle, police said, Deegan allegedly struck and wounded the ranger with a tree limb.  Police officers who were called to the scene also had their hands full. The transient struck one of the officers in the head with a log, Richmond Police Station Capt. Sharon Ferrigno said.  The ranger and cop were treated at the scene for their head injuries. However, the stitched-up cop couldn’t simply return to his beat, police said, as he and two of his colleagues were exposed to poison oak while wrestling Deegan to the ground.”

via Cops out sick after Golden Gate Park skirmish exposes them to poison oak | Mike Aldax | Crime | San Francisco Examiner.

Poison Oak is a hazard for anyone who uses Golden Gate Park, not just the homeless and the park police.  And it surely wasn’t included in the original planting plans for the park.  But it has been growing in the park for a long time.

Poison Oak in Golden Gate Park, 1954, SFPL

And it IS a native plant (unlike the Himalayan blackberry and English Ivy that also grow rampantly in the park).  In recognition of this, there’s a magnificent specimen of Poison Oak (properly identified, pruned and kept in check) in the California section of the Botanical Garden.  And at this time of year, it turns deeply red and looks quite beautiful!

Poison Oak in the Botanical Garden/photo by Heath Massey

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