Fallen Mitchell Park tree, a victim of recent storms, was 'a valued relative' | January 20, 2023 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - January 20, 2023

Fallen Mitchell Park tree, a victim of recent storms, was 'a valued relative'

Generations of families climbed the old stone pine

by Sue Dremann

Numerous Palo Alto residents are mourning the loss of a venerable stone pine that served as the shade, photographic backdrop, and perch for untold numbers of children, adults and birds.

The approximately 63-foot-high tree with a horizontally-growing trunk and its bushy fronds of needles met its demise during the Jan. 4 rain and wind storm. It was the lone casualty among a colony of other stone pines located in the center of a grassy area in Mitchell Park.

The rough bark remained smooth and burnished earlier this week, a visual reminder of the scores of children who had climbed its leaning repose. It was easy to climb; the trunk had always been bent nearly parallel to the ground nearest the roots, and adults also enjoyed sitting on its trunk beneath the shady canopy.

But its decaying roots gave way in the waterlogged soil, creating a 3-foot-deep crater.

The tree has a poor root system from growing in irrigated turf, and the high winds caused the tree to fall, Palo Alto city spokesperson Meghan Horrigan-Taylor said in an email.

As word of the fallen tree spread, residents expressed sadness in Nextdoor posts: An old photograph posted showed a person sitting on the crooked tree's trunk. The tree was a photographer's favorite location for taking pictures of people. Parents watched their children climb higher up its bowing trunk and into its upper branches as they grew older and bolder, they wrote.

"I feel broken-hearted every time I pass it. It was truly a giving tree," said Regina Elmore, a South of Midtown resident who first posted news of the tree's demise along with a photograph on Nextdoor. "RIP most excellent climbing tree. You will be missed."

Flood Triangle resident Janice Savage said she felt a kinship with the tree.

"The stories it could have told us ... a valued relative," she wrote.

Elmore recalled that the tree has been in the park for decades.

"I'm pretty sure my first tree climbing experience was on this tree. It had a sideways-growing trunk (supported by a metal brace), which attracted beginning climbers. As small children we could literally walk up the trunk. As we got older, the tree offered tougher challenges, and (we) felt triumphant when we were able to scale the vertical section of the tree. The treetop was a wonderful place for seeking solitude and communing with nature. A piece of one's childhood disappears when we lose landmarks like this," she said.

Residents wondered what would happen to the tree. Horrigan-Taylor said staff is aware that it has fallen, but clean up hasn't begun because the turf is too saturated to get heavy equipment in there to remove it.

The city initially stores wood from all large-diameter trees in a central location. Some of the trunks might be selected and sent for milling for use in specific projects, she said. The majority of the removed is hauled away and ground up to be used in creating compost.

Some residents said they hoped their favorite tree would be salvaged. Maybe its branches could be trimmed back and the trunk would remain so that children could continue to climb it.

Elmore said she hoped the city would create something memorable to continue the tree's legacy for future generations.

"Maybe it could live on as a wood sculpture for the kids to play on," she said.

Email Staff Writer Sue Dremann at [email protected]


Posted by ALB
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 18, 2023 at 1:16 pm

ALB is a registered user.

The tree had weakened roots because of irrigation. Never water oak trees in the summer. Yes this pine was beloved by many in Palo Alto. The city when it comes up for air needs to evaluate watering plans as this fallen tree could have injured people. Could the city engage Canopy’s certified arborists to ascertain trees that are at risk?

Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 18, 2023 at 6:00 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

That field has been a soggy, poorly drained mess for years. And for more poor drainage, check out the Mitchell dog park.

Posted by eileen
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 19, 2023 at 11:03 am

eileen is a registered user.

I agree with ALB. The city needs to get certified Arborists to look at many of our large city trees to see if they are healthy and not getting too little or too much water! All residents should do the same, especially if they have heritage trees. on their property. Canopy could help with this.

Posted by Consider Your Options.
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 19, 2023 at 11:55 am

Consider Your Options. is a registered user.

The tree was probably at least 65 years old. Mitchell Park was created in 1957. The life span of a stone pine is 80-100 years if it is well-cared for. Recent drought and higher temperatures have weakened a lot of our trees.

Friends, take a moment to learn about any tree (including city trees) on your property. Understand its lifespan, pruning and watering needs and disease risks so that you will know how to care for it and how to treat it so that you do not undermine its health and know when to engage the city for extra care (if it is theirs).

Fail to do this at your own risk. Though trees are gloriously beautiful and provide homes for wildlife, a poorly maintained tree can be a safety liability. Let's each do our part to help preserve the beautiful tree canopy that defines our lovely community.

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