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Welcome to the Los Angeles Arboretum

By Geoff Stein (palmbobAugust 16, 2010

The following article will introduce the reader to one of the finest botanical gardens in California- the Los Angeles Arboretum.

Gardening picture 

There are several wonderful botanical gardens around Los Angeles, California, though none are actually in Los Angeles city.  The Los Angeles arboretum is no exception, actually existing in nearby Arcadia, not far from the Huntington Gardens just 5 miles up the highway.  It is an expanse of over 125 acres in a nice neighborhood with a fairly good climate (similar to the Huntington's) which hovers between USDA zones 9b and 10a.  A few botanical gardens are in a slightly better climate in southern California, but none are in the very best and rare zone 10b pockets (all those are greedily taken up with expensive homes and cities).  But the climate is still good enough to support tens of thousands of species of plants. 


last remaining Wodyetia palm after freeze 2007 knocked all the rest out

The land was purchased by the city in the late 1940s and opened to the public 1956.  The original design was to have the garden planted geographically with an Australian section, Mediterranean section, South African and Asian sections, and a North American section.  Now this is also a Madagascan section, though most of the arboretum today seems less geographically oriented (save the Australian section) than theme oriented: a large palm and cycad garden exists, with a fruit garden nearby, as well as an aloe and succulent garden and large expanses of lawn, all surrounding a central lake (Lake Baldwin) full of turtles. 

 Image turtles piled on a palm trunk in Baldwin Lake

Long before it was a garden, Lucky Baldwin imported a lot of peafowl (peacocks and peahens) for his acreage, part of which was to become the Los Angeles arboretum.  Today there is still a large, and increasing population of peafowl in the arboretum.  The peafowl is the official bird of the Arcadia to this day.  These birds are quite tame and the males proudly display their amazing plumage all the time for their potential mates (and the tourists, too).

 Image Image Peacocks

As mentioned above, the garden is somewhat divided geographically and I certainly have my favorite sections.  And new or revised sections seem to be appearing all the time.  There is always a new garden or feature to explore every year I visit this garden.  Most recently there has been a Madagascan garden put in which is already my favorite area to explore and photograph.  Within it are some of the best specimens of certain plants I have seen anywhere so they obviously either have excellent connections, or at least a decent budget with which to draw upon for acquiring beautiful plants.  Before the Madagascan garden, was a xeric garden complete with hundreds of new cacti and succulents planted in a very artful manner.  And before that my previous favorite garden, the Aloe Garden, was reworked with new paths and new plants. 

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 The Madagascan Garden (left); In the Madagascan Garden: Pachypodium lamerii flowering with Uncarina sp. in the foreground (right)

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Rare flowering of Aloe susannae (left) and more Pachypodiums along with Alluaudias in the Madagascan Garden (right)

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                  Aloe 'Principes' (Aloe ferox x arborescens) - left;                      Aloe striatas (right) in the aloe garden

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       View of the Aloe garden, Los Angeles arboretum (left)                    Aloe thrakiis in bloom in witner (right)

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                                                                                 More view of Aloe gardens in the Los Angeles Arboretum

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              Caesalpinia giselle (Mexican Bird of Paradise)- left, and Kalanchoe luciae in the newer succulent areas

Other favorite areas of mine include the Australian garden, which takes up a very large portion of the arboretum and is constantly having new Australian palms added (yahoo!) and has one of the best collections of native Australian trees and shrubs anywhere in California.  Right next to this garden is a great collection of Acacia trees (most African I am guessing).  Also on this side of the arboretum are several greenhouses with all sorts of wonderful tropical plants I can only wish my climate would support.

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                                                             Anigozantho varieties growing in the Australian garden

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Mature impressive Xanthorrhoeas (Australian Grass Trees- left);   One of many species of native Australian palms, Livistona lanuginosa (right)

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     Eucalyptus (aka Corymbia) ficifolia flowers (left);                                               Eucalyptus perriniana (right)

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                      Acacia seiberiana (left)                                                        colorful thorns of the Acacia giraffe tree (right)

On the other side of a large expanse of grass, upon which concerts are given throughout the year, is my first favorite area, the tropical zone, complete with one of the best cycad collections any botanical garden on the west coast has, an impressive and growing bamboo collection, and a large palm garden.  This last garden needs to be reworked desperately and there are hundreds of new and more interesting species that should be added to it... but obviously they have been busy elsewhere.  This area of Los Angeles county does tend to get pretty cold now and then so a few previous attempts at planting new species have been thwarted by subsequent cold snaps, wiping nearly all of them out (a wonderful Wodyetia planting was nullified by the 2007 freeze sadly).  So perhaps that left a bad taste in their mouths and efforts and money has been directed elsewhere for the time being.

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               Encephalartos horridus in the cycad garden                             Tall Dioon spinulosums in the tropical area

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huge stand of Otatea mexicana (Mexican Weeping Bamboo)- left;     Gigantochloa atroviolacea culms (right)

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Jubaea chilensis (Chilean Wine Palm)- world's largest species of palm- left; very old Archontophoenix cunninghammianas (King Palms) among other palms in the palm garden- right

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very old Trithrinax campestris palm (left)      nice planting of Trachycarpus wagnerianus palms (right)

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                            leaning old palms surround the central lake (lake Baldwin) in the Los Angeles arboretum

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    shots of very old Washingtonia mexicana palms around the lake- many movies have been filmed here

There are many other interesting and beautiful areas of this large arboretum, but for the most part they contain a lot less of the plants I am interested in, and are mostly for those interested in flowering or fruiting plants.  I visit them every three to five years on a whim, but keep coming back to my favorite areas.

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     Smoke trees (Cotinus coggygria)- left, and Jacaranda mimosifolia (right) blooming in other areas of the arboretum

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         more shots of the arboretum above (upper left is of plants in one of the greenhouses)

As well as having an impressive collection of cool and interesting plants, the garden has regular events, many which I attend yearly almost religiously.  These include the yearly fern show, the annual cactus and succulents shows, the Los Angeles Garden Show, and a variety of other specialty shows.  There are also other sorts of big events (most which I don't pay much attention to because I am pretty busy) and year-round work-shops.  These include all sorts of children's activities, exercise programs, landscaping and gardening classes, etc. 

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     shot of booths during the yearly fern show (left)                                                  shot of the Los Angeles Garden show (right)

If you are ever in the Los Angeles area and interested in plants, you have to make this destination a must see, along with the Huntington Gardens. 

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 Dracaena dracos (Dragon Trees) in new Canary Island section (left);  Opuntia ficus-indica cacti line a road going around the inside of the arboretum (right)

For more on the history of the Los Angeles Arboretum see this links:


  About Geoff Stein  
Geoff SteinVeterinarian and Exotic Plant Lover... and obsessive, compulsive collector of all oddball tropical and desert plants.

  Helpful links  
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