An (Instagram) Field Guide to LA's Trees
Stephanie Carrie wants you to care about trees. Specifically L.A.'s trees.
She's the first to admit she's no expert. She's not working for the city parks department or trying to get you to join Greenpeace. She doesn't have a doctorate in dendrology (which, for future reference, is the study of wooded plants), and she's not an arborist.
She just really likes trees.
So much so, that she's spent the past two-and-a-half years making them her hobby, or fangirling over them (if that is a thing one can do to trunked plants). She identifies them, takes photos, and posts them on her Instagram account Trees of L.A, which functions as a kind of modern encyclopedia for the city's greenery.
"It's my small effort to cure 'tree blindness' in L.A.," she said. "We don't even notice the incredible diversity of trees around us, because we kinda just see TREE. But once you start looking more closely, every outing becomes an adventure."
THE @TREESOFLA ORIGIN STORY
Carrie used to be tree-blind, just like the rest of us. Until she went on maternity leave and had a little more time to really get to know her Westwood neighborhood.
"When I first had a kid, I would walk the same route to the park -- about eight blocks every day," she said. "And I learned all the trees on that street. There were almost 50 of them."
She wondered what kind of trees they were and where they came from. Were they native to California? Did they have a particular kind of leaf or seed? Why were the trunks a certain shape or height?
So, she got a copy of A Californian's Guide to the Trees Among Us, a book by a UC Santa Cruz botanist named Matt Ritter, who turned his tree obsession into a taxonomy of the 150 most common wooded plants in the state.
"I used that as my beginning manual," she said.
After that, the daily walk to the park was transformed into a biological scavenger hunt.
"It suddenly became really fun to identify the trees," she said. "Once you know about 20 or so of them, it's exciting to see one you don't know about."
She turned to Instagram to see if someone else had made a social media account that she could use as a reference, but was surprised to find there wasn't one. So she decided to fill the social media tree void herself.
Since she launched @treesofla, the account hasn't exactly gone viral, but it does have a loyal niche following of over 2,000 L.A. tree-enthusiasts.
"It turns out there is a very active botanist community on Instagram," Carrie said.
HOW TO CURE TREE-BLINDNESS
The first step is recognizing that you have tree-blindness.
The second step is gratitude -- once you realize that trees do a lot more than just look good.
"We treat trees like beautification instead of city infrastructure. Our canopy is a resource that is worth $12 billion, and our own city government has not done enough to protect it," Carrie said, pointing out that L.A. spends significantly less on tree maintenance than other cities like New York.
It's been estimated that there are over 10 million trees growing in the city of Los Angeles, which hosts one of the most diverse urban forests in the world. That includes street trees, parks, backyards and gardens, according to L.A.'s Bureau of Street Services.
Our trees come from places as far as Australia, the Canary Islands and China -- and they stay (alive) thanks to our friendly Mediterranean climate.
"Some people are native-only advocates, but there is something really beautiful about us being so global in our trees," Carrie said.
She acknowledges that there are bigger problems out there -- like homelessness, inequality, healthcare, the list goes on -- but she hopes that her Instagram account can make a positive impact, even if that impact is small.
It's not just about seeing (really seeing) the trees around us, but also learning to appreciate and protect them, she says, before pausing to tell me how cool ginkgos are.
"Ginkgos are one of the oldest things around, from the time of the dinosaurs -- millions of years ago," she said, clearly smitten. "They're the only tree left that have this specific fan-shaped leaf. It's amazing."
That is to say, if you only take away one piece of advice from this story, let it be this: find someone who looks at you like Stephanie Carrie looks at Ginkgos.
Then grow a tree together.
Now without further adieu, please enjoy Stephanie Carrie's personal list of favorite L.A. trees, in no particular order:
"I also love that they have these enormous long seed pods that look like long skinny cucumbers," Carrie says.