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UC Berkeley Web Feature

Telegraph Avenue in the fall The Telegraph Avenue approach to the campus Photos by Jeffery Kahn

Liquidambar, tupelo and ginkgo: Autumn's fire lights up the Berkeley campus

topkey  Slide show: A fall foliage tour of the campus

– He once lost a limb in a storm, will soon be bald and has lived alone for more than 80 years on Strawberry Creek's north fork.

But don't pity the male ginkgo tree close to Giannini Hall. In November on campus, he's never lonely: All eyes are on his delicate, fan-shaped leaves, which turn golden, then flutter down onto the dark green grass, creating a spectacular carpet. As of this week, his leaves still are more chartreuse than gold, but it won't be long now.

"If I had to pick, it would be the ginkgo," said Richard Dodd, UC Berkeley associate professor of environmental science, policy and management, when asked to name his favorite fall tree on campus. The tree is famous, said Dodd, having been photographed in winter for the textbook "Comparative Morphology of Vascular Plants" as "a large specimen in leafless condition."

"It's such a beautiful tree in the fall, because in the background are darker greens, pines," agreed Geralyn Unterberg, awards and events coordinator at the College of Natural Resources. "The rest of the year, the color is a very light green, like a light is shining through it."

The Ginkgo Tree of Giannini

She told me once, "It is the oldest tree on campus."
And I stood under its yellow expanse
Gazing through the great golden dome
Of buttressed branches and flame-lit leaves.

It was November then
And the leaves remembered
With their brilliant fire. The last show of the sun
Before the winter rains.

I remember the story she told
Of the Ginkgo tree
The temple tree of the ancient Chinese.
A monk wandered once
For months and months Searching for a resting place
A place of consolation
A place to build his temple.

And after he crossed the final mountain
With blistered feet he came to rest
Beneath the bare branches of a twisted tree
Laying there his own twisted limbs
Resting there his grey tired head.

And as he nearly slept he prayed
Repeating once again his wish
For a golden temple resting place.
Then, without warning, the bare branches trembled
Bursting forth with golden color
Sheltering with a great golden dome
Showering him with great golden leaves.

And so today the Ginkgo tree
Becomes once a year a golden temple.
I think of this tree as I sit everyday
With mountains of papers and deadlines to meet
My mind wandering like the ancient monk
Roams from the room
Down the stairs of Giannini Crosses the grassy green
To rest wearily beneath the golden dome
Of the golden ginkgo tree.

—Patricia K. Colleran

This ginkgo's fan club stretches all the way from campus to Patricia Colleran's office on the East Coast. Colleran, who worked at Giannini Hall 20 years ago, won first prize at UC Berkeley in a 1982 campus photo and writing contest for her poem about the tree.

"I remember the brilliant yellow of the old ginkgo tree with much appreciation," Colleran wrote via e-mail from New York on a recent fall day, adding, "There IS fall foliage at UC Berkeley."

When it comes to autumn color, the Bay Area isn't, say, New England. But if you know where to look, tree-lovers at UC Berkeley say there's enough red, orange and yellow on campus to help soothe the most homesick Midwestern or Eastern transplant. And this is the month to find it.

"November's prime time for color around here," said Jim Horner, UC Berkeley's landscape architect, who pointed out many of the following trees on a recent tour of the campus:

GINKGOS – The ginkgo near Giannini is just one of many gorgeous ginkgos on campus. Native to China, they have bi-lobed leaves that can be dried to make an extract popular for medicinal uses. Check out several small, already-golden trees near the steps off Oxford Street that lead to Barker Hall, a handful in the Hearst Mining Circle and a few unusually tall, female ones – which drop malodorous fruit – in front of Boalt Hall, off Bancroft Way.

LOMBARDY POPLARS – There are three tall, stately, 85-year-old poplars in the courtyard behind Giannini, Wellman and Hilgard halls. When this agricultural complex was built in the 1920s, John Gregg, the campus's first landscape architect, chose these trees to complement the buildings' Tuscan style. The thin, column-like trees have countless small leaves, which rustle in the wind and turn yellow in fall. Another Lombardy poplar is near the West Crescent, in front of the Eucalyptus Grove. A very tall one is at the northeast corner of the Valley Life Sciences Building, and half a dozen or more form an arc at the southwest corner of the Berkeley Art Museum.

LIQUIDAMBARS – These rapidly-growing shade trees, also called sweet gum, are often mistaken for maples and are particularly colorful in fall, with their usually five-lobed leaves turning a variety of colors. There are quite a few throughout campus. To see rows of them, drive or walk along Hearst Avenue, between Etcheverry Hall and Gayley Road, or check out Bancroft Way between the student union and Eshleman Hall. A young group of them is on the east side of Barrows Hall, and Horner said the chancellor has a few outside his kitchen window at University House.

ASIAN MAPLES – At the UC Botanical Garden, Japanese and other Asian maples can be found around the Japanese pool and in the Asian collection. In addition, look for the color red on the flowering dogwoods in the Eastern North America section, on the Roger's Red grapevine in the California section, and in displays of poison oak. Of the oak, said Chris Carmichael, the garden's associate director of collections and horticulture: "We label it, and tell people to stay away from it."

On central campus, you'll find several Japanese maples on the north side of Alumni House, but they're heavily shaded and don't always show color as readily as another group at the Faculty Club, on the northwest section of the outdoor eating area.

SHAGBARK HICKORY – A spectacular, bright yellow-leafed tree in fall, this hickory is just past the West Gate to campus at West Circle. It's already dropped most of its leaves for the year. Horner says there's a story behind the tree that could be an urban myth – the original hickory tree at this location is said to have been killed by tear gas decades ago during campus riots.

TRIDENT MAPLES – About 80 or so of these trees were chosen for the Memorial Glade area because they are low, pedestrian-scale, have nice fall color and can grow in heavy clay soil. In the fall, their leaves turn a mixture of reds, yellows and oranges. There's an older trident maple on the north fork of Strawberry Creek as the creek goes underground near West Circle. Horner says it usually turns color late in the season.

ZELKOVAS – Two great examples of this low-branched shade tree are between Boalt and Kroeber halls and visible from Bancroft Way. Each is a different fall color – zelkovas can turn yellow, orange-brown and even reddish purple. These two trees were transplanted from the campus's former Cowell Hospital site. Another nice zelkova is west of Morrison Hall.

CHINESE PISTACHES – Between Moses and Stephens halls you'll find a great example of this shade tree, whose feathery leaves turn lively fall colors. Horner reported a few days ago that the pistache in this location is "coloring up nicely now, starting from the tips and working its way down. It will turn fabulously red and is probably the best example of a pistache on the campus. If you want to take a picture of a pistache, then this is it."

PEAR TREES (ornamental) – Dozens of these trees, which turn a mixture of hot fall colors, were planted in rows parallel to each other against the courtyard walls of Warren and Morgan halls. The leaves have displayed their color for some time already, yet are hanging on, said Horner, waiting for a big storm or wind to carry them all away.

TUPELOS – About a dozen of these trees, native to the South and also known as sour gum, are in the courtyard of the Haas School of Business and have fluorescent orange leaves in the fall.

RED MAPLES – A row of these increasingly popular street-side trees, with their three-lobed leaves in various shades of orange or red, is along the south side of Barrows Hall, and others can be found on Barrow Lane.

Not only trees, but vines display fall color across campus. Walls crawling with Boston ivy vines include those on Hildebrand Hall, the Spieker Aquatics Complex and along Bancroft Way, and a particularly stunning display of dark red ivy is on Stiles Hall, on the eastern wall next to a campus parking lot.

Sometimes trees that should be colorful in fall lose their leaves before their color is expressed, said Horner, because they haven't had enough warm days and cool nights. "Pray for cool, cold nights," added Dodd, "and we'll get lovely colored leaves."

No matter what the season, Horner said UC Berkeley is a beautiful place for tree-gazing – there are some 2,000 individual trees representing 200-plus species – and has the oldest planted trees of any UC campus. Unfortunately, the campus loses about 50 trees a year to old age, disease or construction, he said, and, worse yet, state budget cuts have left the campus with only $1,000 per year for plant replacement. One 12-foot tree alone can cost about $800.

Horner said the grassroots Tree Fund begun by a campus arborist in 2003 is an important effort to maintain and add to the campus's unique landscape.

"If you ask people for their favorite memories of campus, it's often not their dorm room or a class they took, but the time they spent under a maple tree studying, or a particular tree where they met their friends," said Horner.

Aimee Kelley, an administrative assistant and a 2000 Cal grad who just returned to campus after living on the East Coast for five years, said she has fond memories of reading Shakespeare under the willow tree across from Valley Life Sciences. Now that she's left Brooklyn for Berkeley, she's discovered more favorites – including the big ginkgo just outside her office in Giannini.

"It's the first one I've seen on campus this fall," said Kelley. "It's just beginning to turn and is so tall, I can't believe how enormous it is."

The Campanile framed by a trident maple.