By Robert Trachtenberg

Despite the fact the calender says that it is spring, we all know that is still feels like winter. The bloom season for many trees such as Flowering Crabapples has been shortened with all of this rain. So I found myself focusing on the structural beauty of trees and how they help create a strong sense of identity in our community.

I feel fortunate living in a city that has so many neighborhoods that are characterized with stands of majestic trees, like these London Plane trees on Hopkins Street. All photos and captions: Robert Trachtenberg
London Plane trees, often called American Sycamores, are one of the most commonly used street trees in America like these lining Marin Avenue
An allée of London Plane trees frame the view of The Campanile. Laid out on a grid this bosque of pollarded trees create a wonderful sense of place for the plaza
The versatility of London Plane trees allows them to be pruned or pollarded each year
Pollarding trees like these each year can create a sculptural and animated quality that is beautiful in the winter
Like soldiers holding hands, I love the way these trees capture views
A California Buckeye (Aesculus californica) just starting to leaf out is native to California. One of the first trees to lose its leaves, it then reveals a gnarly and naked structure that is like looking at a living piece of sculpture
Native American tribes used the poisonous nuts to stupefy school of fish in small streams to make them easier to catch
Another one of my favorite natives is the Big Leaf Maple (Acer macrophyllum). The Maple sends out a tender new leaves that start out with a reddish brown color eventually turning to green in the summer. Small greenish yellow flowers hang in pendulous clusters eventually turning to winged seeds that are called a Samara
Often used as windbreaks or to line driveways, the winter silhouette of a Lombardy Poplar is a striking contrast to the skyline

Robert Trachtenberg, a landscape designer who lives in Berkeley, is the owner of Garden Architecture. This photo essay is part of an occasional series in which Trachtenberg brings an educated eye to the beauty of the nature that surrounds us in Berkeley. His first piece for Berkeleyside focused on the winter silhouettes and shadows created by trees.

Update, 05.14.11: For more information on local trees, check out “A Californian’s Guide to the Trees Among Us” by Matt Riter, published this year by Berkeley’s Heyday Press.

Tracey Taylor

Tracey Taylor is co-founder of Berkeleyside and co-founder and editorial director of Cityside, the nonprofit parent to Berkeleyside and The Oaklandside. Before launching Berkeleyside, Tracey wrote for...

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  1. I think that I shall never see
    Anything as lovely as a tree.

    Thank you for another great Berkeley-side nature zen out! Gorgeous and makes my eyes get bigger everytime I encounter Mr. Trachtenberg’s sumptuous photographs.

  2. Stunningly beautiful photos of UC’s London Planes. They are particularly majestic and muscular at the moment and Robert’s images captures all of that.

    All the trees were trimmed back in Feb. The trimmings were long, straight switches, perfect for weaving furniture or large baskets. Anyone know what UC does with these?

  3. Because the parking strips are city property, not the adjoining homeowner’s, the city wants to be consulted and to make the final decision before you do anything. In practical terms, that allows the city to prevent homeowners from planting inappropriate species that would eventually cause problems — growing too large, or with roots that break the sidewalk, or that drop sticky mess. Believe it or not, some crazy people would even try to plant eucalyptus, or redwood! Oy vey, indeed. But if you do your own research on various websites to find an appropriate tree, such as the list on S.F. Friends of the Urban Forest,, and then plant it properly, I suspect the city would look the other way.

  4. I’m perfectly capable of reading the page that *I* linked to, Bruce. I’m asking someone who went through the process (not you) for the kinds of how-does-it-work-in-the-real-world information that wouldn’t be found on that page.

    That may be the *law* but several of my nearby neighbors have everything from hedgerows to herb gardens growing in their parkway strip for which they clearly do not have express permission from the City.

    Frankly I’m getting pretty sick of the City of Berkeley constantly saying “NO.” whenever they are asked, but simply ignoring it when people do things without asking for permission first.

  5. “12.44.010 Planting without permission prohibited where.

    It is unlawful for any person to plant any tree, shrub or plant in or upon any street, parking strip, public square, park or playground, without first having obtained permission therefor from the Director of Recreation and Parks of the City, who shall designate the kind, variety and size of the tree, shrub or plant to be planted. (Ord. 3380-NS § 1, 1954)”

    Please do seek permission. Trees interact in problematic ways with underground infrastructure, with public safety, with overhead wires, and so forth. They impose liabilities upon the City and it would not be fair for you to unilaterally impose those on current and future residents.

  6. Since you’ve been through the process, do you happen to know how the city feels about people just planting trees in the parkway strip themselves instead of waiting for the City to do it?

    I’m in a position where I have a tree in my median strip already but it’s small and sickly looking. I’d like to move it somewhere else and replace it with a more mature London Plane, but haven’t gotten a response from the City about my questions.

    I’m planning on paying for it myself, and I can’t decide if I should just do it without permission and deal with the fallout, or try to get the City to OK it first.

  7. These pictures show how much trees make a city or a neighborhood into a nurturing, living place. It is remarkable how in Berkeley, streets like these are the exception. I’ve lived here for 15 years and watched the city “trimming” trees into the stunted shapes so common here. As an example of how it is actually possible for a city to do this right, look at Palo Alto. Yes, trees can be trimmed even around phone wires to look graceful and natural.

  8. Really wonderful article Rob, it certainly is the melding of your two minds or your (DNA) the aesthetic of art/architecture and sensitivity to the uniqueness of all things botanical…great photography, as well…Abby

  9. I’d like to second Sharkey’s recommendation of the City of Berkeley’s street tree planting program. It all depends on us, the city’s residents. You will have a much, much better chance of getting the city to plant a tree in front of your house if you organize your block(s) and get a group of people to apply together. I did just that three years ago on my block and got 10 people to sign up. I confess I was surprised at how many people said they didn’t want a tree at all, for a variety of reasons. Anyway, the city’s Urban Forestry Office was helpful in giving us information about the tree species (and in gently prodding us to choose the same tree rather than a variety of different ones). A year after our group applied, the trees got planted, and our block looks much nicer. Once again, here’s the URL:

  10. Great photos and fascinating commentary. I lived in London for years and find London Plane trees very familiar, but they look humdrum (dare I say plain) in London. Not here.

  11. Beautiful photography – particularly the B+W of the trees on Hopkins Street. It brought back Plus X memories of years ago.

  12. These trees do add a stately dimension to our major throughfares, even if it’s not quite Unter den Linden Strasse…

    But the type of decidious trees als shed copious amounts of leaves in the autumn and produce many broken branches in rain storms or windy days. They can pile up to great depths in parking places and on sidewalks. On a given residential block in Berkeley with these type of trees, you will typically see one, maybe two residents per block who, on their own initiative, try to sweep up the leaves and other detritus in front of their houses regularly, while most of the block remains clogged with leaves. I suppose these other residents expect someone else (the City?) to keep up with the mess.

  13. Great photos and an interesting article!

    I love the look of Plane trees. Unfortunately I have a tiny, ugly, slow-growing tree on my parkway strip.

    For those who don’t have trees and would like them, or those who are interested in learning more about Berkeley’s rules and regulations about tree planting, here is a link to the tree section of the City’s website:

  14. This is a lovely counterpoint to the sobering article about the parent meeting at Berkeley High last night. Thank you. I appreciate learning more about these trees that I enjoy — particularly that stretch of Hopkins. Unlike some of these trees, I’m not a native species to Northern California and it’s taken years for me to acclimate to the London Plane’s odd shaped limbs. I can see their beauty now but it has taken a while to develop a new lens.