Home Ground: Los Angeles County Arboretum: A library of life, needs protection

| March 4, 2021 | 1 Comment

Spring begins March 20 and, at the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden in Arcadia, all is well, mostly. The South African aloes are flaming orange and yellow, as they do every spring, pandemic or no. And since it is March, the annual male courtship display of the Arboretum’s peacock flock is in full view.

Essential site

BLOOMING ALOES in March.
Photo by Frank McDonough /LA County Arboretum

Visitors have been flocking here in this year of lockdown. Because Los Angeles County deemed the Arboretum as an essential site early last year, the 127-acre property has been open. Arboretum staff members carefully monitor the number of people admitted; tickets are available online only, though members may just show up, membership card in hand. Face covering and social distancing are required, of course. (arboretum.org)

The Arboretum was my main teaching home when I lived in Los Angeles. I am not impartial about these acres of plants, natural landscapes, wildlife, and historical buildings. I have given talks, writing workshops and classes there; what I have learned there is beyond measure. It has always felt like a place of solace and rejuvenation.

On March 15, the Arboretum will begin extended warm weather hours — blooming agapanthus and wisteria await you. Members will have access to the grounds from 7:30 a.m. until 9 a.m.; after that, it will be open to all until 7 p.m. The Peacock Café has reopened for “grab and go.”

Susan Eubank, the Arboretum’s librarian, has held, since 2010, a monthly community book discussion, “Reading the Western Landscape.” The gathering is now on Zoom; on March 31, the book to be discussed will be “Two Old Women,” by Vilma Wallis, a retelling of an Athabascan legend from a nomadic Alaskan Native tribe. Check the online calendar for this and other events.

The Arboretum grounds have a long, complex history, dating to the native peoples of the San Gabriel Valley. If I were in Southern California instead of New Mexico, I would take a late afternoon walk to Tallac Knoll, in the southwestern corner of the Arboretum, to see its 250 natural Engelmann oaks, reportedly the largest remaining grove in Los Angeles County. In the presence of these mighty trees, I think you can feel their healing essence. Quercus englemannii is native to Southern California; the local Gabrielino-Tongva tribes once dined on their acorns.

Tallac Knoll is a geologic remnant of the Raymond Hill Fault, which runs from the east fork of the San Gabriel River and Monrovia Canyon and then west and south to the Pacific Ocean. Artesian springs from the Raymond Hill Fault feed Baldwin Lake at the Arboretum.

But water, as you are well aware, is a tricky business in Southern California. A section of the Arboretum, in the northwest of the property near the Arcadia Wash, is in danger from a proposed groundwater recharge facility and pump station, which is backed by a consortium of five foothill cities and the County of Los Angeles.

At stake are 425 trees

ENGELMANN OAK is located between the Madagascar Spiny
Forest and Africa sections. Photo from LA County Arbortetum

This is the Australian sector of the property, where trees and shrubs have long been cultivated. At stake are 425 trees from 29 plant families, 53 genera, and 175 species, according to a count by Arboretum staff. Some trees are a hundred feet tall.

The proposal is hotly contested by Richard Schulhof, chief executive of the Los Angeles Arboretum Foundation, Foundation board members, Arboretum staff, members, and visitors, along with adjacent homeowners, environmentalists, horticulturalists, and preservation groups.

The status of the proposal is pending. The Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden has been a beloved public landscape for almost three-quarters of a century — a place you can count on. Destroying one section would disturb so much else. As a biologist once said, about species preservation, but I think it applies to this great Southern California resource: “You shouldn’t burn down the library of life.”

By Paula Panich

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Category: Real Estate

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  1. Eric Strauss says:

    Thank you for this nice article on the Arboretum. I live nearby, and feel inspired now to get memberships for me and my wife.

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