Explore the Trees of Filoli
Follow this self-guided tour through the Walled Garden, and learn about 11 important Filoli trees!
1. Olive Tree
Look out Italy — California now produces millions of gallons of olive oil each year! In the 1920s, William Bourn planted 175 olive trees at Filoli, hoping to become part of the production boom. Though the trees proved to be too labor intensive to farm, they add Mediterranean charm to Filoli. Our horticulturists keep them in the same compact goblet shape they had when pictured in 1959.
Despite being drought-tolerant and disease-resistant, recent Mediterranean olive harvests have been damaged by olive fruit fly infestations and extreme weather due to climate change.
2. Valley Oak
Oaks support more life-forms than any other North American tree. This 200-year-old oak — at left of the Garden House in this 1920s photo — hosts caterpillars that feed on its leaves, small birds that feast on the caterpillars, and hawks that prey on those small birds. Scrub jays and squirrels eat acorns and distribute them to grow into new oaks.
3. Copper Beech
A popular landscape tree, this copper beech was planted at Filoli around 1920. It produces edible beechnuts that rodents love. Foliage color ranges from green to burgundy, turning a russet brown in autumn. Other forms of this tree at Filoli can be seen as the tunnel hedge along the Knot Garden or the tiny beech bonsai forest on the Dining Room Terrace.
4. Dawn Redwood
Are these redwoods dead? No, they’re deciduous! Unlike evergreen coast redwoods, dawn redwoods’ wispy needles turn brown in fall and are replaced in spring with vibrant chartreuse ones. Known only through fossils, the species was thought to be extinct for 20 million years, until a forest of dawn redwoods was found in China in the 1940s.
Conservationists spread the seeds across the world, and they can now be found thriving in Bay Area parks and gardens. This pair was planted in the 1960s by the Roths.
Filoli’s ginkgos provide a spectacular fall color show, creating a carpet of fallen yellow leaves. The distinctive fan shape of ginkgo leaves have been identified in North American fossils from 200 million years ago, making them one of the oldest tree lineages on earth.
Since the ginkgo species has survived multiple mass extinction events, it is useful to scientists studying climate change. The trees provide a continuous record spanning from fossils to the ginkgo trees on our city blocks today.
6. Irish Yew
Taxus baccata ‘Fastigiata’
Filoli’s 200 Irish yews provide structure to the Garden and frame impressive vistas. They grow naturally in a column shape, which the horticulturalists enhance through regular pruning. Planted by the Bourns in the 1920s, the yews were grown from cuttings collected at Muckross Estate in Ireland, where William and Agnes Bourn’s daughter Maud lived.
Agnes in 1918 stands with newly planted yews alongside her son-in-law and grandson (left), but they towered over a gardener in 1956 when the yews had matured (right). Most are now kept at 15-20 feet tall.
7. Weeping Higan Cherry
Prunus x subhirtella ‘Pendula’
These weeping cherry trees were added after the Roth family donated Filoli to the National Trust. In fall, their leaves turn yellow, and in spring the branches showcase cascades of pink flowers. The trees are native to Japan, where the custom of hanami — enjoying the transient beauty of flowers — leads people to picnic under their blossoms in springtime.
Warming temperatures in recent years have meant that cherry trees bloom earlier than expected. This affects the timing of annual festivals and the ecosystems around the trees.
8. Japanese Maple
Filoli features about 60 individual Japanese maples, representing 20 different varieties. The trees fulfill different functions depending on where they are planted, acting as foundation plants, accent plants, or mid-canopy trees here in the Woodland Garden. Since Filoli is located in a cool valley, the Japanese maples provide a lovely color display in late fall, seen here lit for Holidays at Filoli.
Look at the shape of their leaves! The hand-like shape is referenced in the species’ scientific name: “palm-atum.”
9. Tasmanian Tree Fern
Depending on which child you ask, this section of the Woodland Garden is where the dinosaurs and magical creatures roam. Despite their name, tree ferns are not technically trees — they don’t have any true wood in their trunks, but take on a tree-like form as their arching, lacy leaves sprout from the top. The Bourns began introducing these whimsical perennials to Filoli’s Garden in the 1920s.
Being tropical plants, they suffered from frosts over the century, but continued to be replanted, some in bottomless redwood stumps transported from Filoli’s redwood groves.
10. London Plane
Platanus ✕ hispanica
London plane trees are a hybrid of American sycamore and Oriental plane trees. Filoli’s trees are pollarded (pruned) annually to maintain a consistent desired height and spur new growth. In addition, a pole is used to train the branches into a visual wall. Touch the tree’s gray bark — it peels off in eye-catching patterns to reveal white inner bark.
London plane trees are widely planted on city streets and parks due to their tolerance of urban pollutants, which flake off with their bark!
11. Camperdown Elms
Ulmus glabra ‘Camperdownii’
Striking in all seasons, Camperdown elms display a canopy of chartreuse seed pods in spring, bright yellow leaves in autumn, and exposed sculptural limbs in winter. Planted during the Bourn era (and pictured in 1965), these elms survived the Dutch Elm Disease outbreak that killed 40 million American elms. The pathogen was accidentally introduced to the U.S. through infected timber in 1928.
Filoli helps preserve tree species that have been affected by habitat loss, climate change, and disease pathogens spread by global trade.
Thank you for following our self-guided Trees of Filoli Tour!
As you look back toward the House, compare your view today to this 1927 photo. Filoli’s tree canopy changed with nature and as the needs of the residents and current visitors evolved. Can you imagine what stories have played out beneath the branches over the last century?
Filoli not only cares for the ornamental trees in the Garden, but also a vast Nature Preserve filled with oaks, redwoods, madrones, and Douglas firs. Those native species are best equipped to handle drought and provide food and habitat for native animals. If you have time today, see these trees along the one-mile Estate Trail.