Sunday, December 2, 2007


Stone Pine - Before the Fall. North Side of Janss Steps
[Apologies for the quality--I found this online, with no attribution. And as far as I know, the only existing photo of this lost tree]

Stone Pines behind Royce Hall

Italian Stone Pine - "The Survivor"
S. Side of Janss Steps

I have come under the spell of the (Italian) Stone Pine, of which there are several specimens on the UCLA campus. The two most magnificent trees are located on each side of the head of the Janss Steps. The Janss Steps is the original 87-step entrance to the university, named for the brothers who sold the land to the university. Notably, both JFK and MLK held rallys on these steps.

The stone pines that flank the top of the steps are (in my estimate) at least 40-feet tall, with a broad canopy that shelters many species of birds at various times of the year. Here's what Wikipedia has to say about the stone pine:

The (Italian) Stone Pine (or Umbrella Pine) (Pinus pinea; family Pinaceae) is a species of pine native of southern Europe, primarily the Iberian Peninsula. This tree has been exploited for its edible pine nuts since prehistoric times. It is also a widespread horticultural tree, besides being cultivated for the seeds.

The original range Stone Pine was probably only in Portugal and Spain, but it has been cultivated extensively for at least 6,000 years for the edible seeds. These have been trade items since early historic times. It is cultivated and often naturalised throughout the Mediterranean region, for so long that it is often considered native, while more recently (since about 1700) been introduced to other areas with Mediterranean climates.

And another online source revealed these tidbits:

Medicinal Uses


The turpentine obtained from the resin of all pine trees is antiseptic, diuretic, rubefacient and vermifuge. It is a valuable remedy used internally in the treatment of kidney and bladder complaints and is used both internally and as a rub and steam bath in the treatment of rheumatic affections. It is also very beneficial to the respiratory system and so is useful in treating diseases of the mucous membranes and respiratory complaints such as coughs, colds, influenza and TB. Externally it is a very beneficial treatment for a variety of skin complaints, wounds, sores, burns, boils etc and is used in the form of liniment plasters, poultices, herbal steam baths and inhalers.

Other Uses

Dye; Herbicide; Resin; Wood.

A tan or green dye is obtained from the needles. 

The needles contain a substance called terpene, this is released when rain washes over the needles and it has a negative effect on the germination of some plants, including wheat. 

Yields a resin and turpentine. Oleo-resins are present in the tissues of all species of pines, but these are often not present in sufficient quantity to make their extraction economically worthwhile. The resins are obtained by tapping the trunk, or by destructive distillation of the wood. In general, trees from warmer areas of distribution give the higher yields[64]. Turpentine consists of an average of 20% of the oleo-resin[64] and is separated by distillation. Turpentine has a wide range of uses including as a solvent for waxes etc, for making varnish, medicinal etc. Rosin is the substance left after turpentine is removed. This is used by violinists on their bows and also in making sealing wax, varnish etc. Pitch can also be obtained from the resin and is used for waterproofing, as a wood preservative etc. 
The wood, is used for carpentry, furniture making etc.


As can be easily seen, this tree is truly a marvel, not to mention a beauty to behold. I have not been able to find out just when these two tree brothers were planted, but they do no appear in a 1929 aerial photo. They are obviously older specemins, however,so it was with great concern that I noticed in July that the tree on the north side of the steps had brown needles and the bark looked like it was oozing large amounts of pitch. I contacted the campus landscaping department via email but never heard anything back. After that I didn't walk over in that area for several weeks (mostly due to the heat of midday, which makes walking for me very unpleasant).

Imagine my utter shock when I happened to be over near the steps about a month later and saw the tree was gone! I mean REALLY gone--not even a stump left and the ground cover all neatly raked over. I asked a facilities worker who happened to be nearby about it and was told that the tree had split in half one night and they had to remove it! My heart sank, but I imagine my grief was nothing compared to that felt by its surviving companion.

Those trees must have had many conversations during their decades standing sentinel at the top of the steps. They had weathered many storms, seen the passing of many seasons (and students), and enjoyed pleasant days in the company of birds. The breezes brought news from far off places and a multitude of bird visitors brought news and music to their sturdy limbs, and allowed the two trees to live vicariously through their winged adventures. Now the remaining stone pine stands vigil alone and who knows of its sorrows in the loss of its companion?

I try to visit the tree often now and when we are alone I speak to it aloud, hoping it makes it less lonely. I also want to keep my own vigil to monitor its health, hoping never to see the warning signs I saw in its brother. In late summer the honeysuckle and lantana bloomed beneath its feet sending a heavenly perfume wafting on the warm breeze. Bees and hummingbirds doggedly worked the blossoms and I am sure they are welcome visitors to this last tree.

One morning in late September I spotted a pair of Western bluebirds up in the stone pine and I knew that it would never be truly lonely as long as the winged ones continued to visit and stop to rest among its branches. And I wonder if the whispers of this gentle giant carry on the wind, over the walls of Royce Hall, and reach the other stone pines that reside there; and that they, in turn, answer it back.

[Oddly, and somewhat incongruously, this blog was created while listening to "Strange Days" by the Doors.]


Janson said...

How incredibly sad... I really feel bad for that tree, and that's saying something. I don't tend to get misty for the veggies. But you really humanized them. It must've really hurt.

Glad the other one has you to keep it company. And to have a watchful eye helping keep it protected.

Beautiful post.

~ janson

Linda Navroth said...

Hey Janson,

Thanks for the kind comments on this piece. When you love something, the words come easily. Yes, I am very attached to this tree. As a matter of fact, I was over there the other day and everything seems to be okay--no evidence of disease so far. I am hopeful that the other guy's demise was just a random event.