Smoke Tree

Drought-resistant Smoke tree in the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California
While in San Diego during the last week of February I took a sunny day to do a beautiful drive to the desert. A 2 hour jaunt from San Diego east on Highway 78 takes one through the Cuyamaca mountains and Cleveland National Forest, and then down into California's largest park, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.

The Anza-Borrego Desert is 600,000 acres of stark, hot, harsh beauty. It is quiet. Very, very quiet. Everything that lives here has adapted to the heat and lack of moisture.  Many plants in the desert are "drought deciduous" meaning that they drop their leaves in times of drought and go dormant. When it rains the plants become active and new leaves emerge. This cycle may repeat itself several times throughout the year.

Palm trees in Victoria's Beacon Hill Park
It is amazing that trees can even exist in this harsh environment where the average rainfall is less than 6 inches per year. Compare that to Tofino on Vancouver Island which receives over 135 inches of wet stuff per year. That is over 10 feet. But it is not rainy here all year.

The south of Vancouver Island, like southern California, has a Mediterranean climate with warm, dry summers and moderate, wet winters. Many of the plants I saw in San Diego, and even the desert, were familiar to me after seeing them in Victoria region gardens.

Palm trees for example, may not be as large or as healthy as those further south, but Victoria does sport a number of them.

Plants that tolerate drought can do well in the Victoria area. The native Arbutus is an ideal tree to plant in low water exposures. Although I have never seen one in Victoria, the Smoke tree would probably do well in the garden here, too.

The Smoke tree, native to California, grows up to 11 meters tall, although it often grows as a shrub in the harsh environs of the desert. The tree has small dark green oval leaves that turn brilliant colours in the Fall. It sports showy clusters of tiny deep blue flowers in the summer.

Smoke tree, John Gerrard
From a distance the flowers, and the fine hairs that emerge from them, look like puffs of smoke and hence the name.

Not surprisingly, the Smoke tree is said to indicate the presence of underground water. It has a long tap root that plunges through the poor soils seeking water deep below the parched surface.

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