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TREES, PLEASE! Changing Skylines

By Tim Clancy, for Let’s Talk Plants! November 2022.

Balboa Park, San Diego, CA, USA Date	Taken on 27 September 2015 Source Author Roman Eugeniusz
Balboa Park, San Diego, CA, USA Date taken: 27 September 2015 Wikimedia Commons.

Changing Skylines

Like buildings, many trees can be recognized from miles away. Some trees we even refer to as “skyline” trees. As time marches on the skyline often changes almost abruptly with the addition of new buildings often after protestations of its size or placement been denied.

It’s a good thing trees work on “tree time” which works almost as the reverse of dog time. You know one year in the life of a dog equals seven in that of a human (or something like that, it is after all a generalization). Since trees live longer than humans, a year in the life of a coast live oak (which can live to 250 years old) would be equivalent to maybe three years in a human.

Even fast-growing trees take time to get to a size that may agitate someone who wants a view of something other than the tree. (Of course, for me the view is the tree).

Sometimes the skyline changes when a tree goes away. I imagine most of us don’t purposely watch as trees decline and die. As an arborist I am always looking for trees on their way out and I usually plot them on a Google Earth map and re-visit them from time to time to watch how they die.

Tim Clancy.
Close inspection reveals kinks in the Torrey pine armor.

Not far from where I live there are three trees currently on the watch list. One is a magnificent Torrey pine just up the street from me in a private yard. The tree has been in the ground for more than 50 years and maybe even one hundred. I stopped to look at it one day and noticed a dead branch low in the canopy still some fifty feet off the ground. Upon closer inspection I can see multiple locations where the tree has been attacked by bark beetles. The tree responds to the attacks by plugging beetle holes with sap that glistens in the sun so it’s easy to see where they are. There are some bark beetle treatments but, in my experience, they have not been very effective at controlling the attackers.

It pains me to make a prediction about this tree, and I hope that I am wrong, but I do think that this tree will be in such poor condition in five years that it will come down. This will have a massive effect on the Cardiff skyline as it is one of the biggest trees we have.

Tim Clancy.
Monterey pine enjoying its final days in Cardiff.

A few blocks up the hill is a holdout Monterey pine. I say hold out because most of these were destroyed by beetles in the 80s and 90s and I don’t see them around Southern California very often. The tree is located in front of an apartment building and is severely infected with beetles and I don’t give it more than 12 months until it is completely dead.

Tim Clancy.
Fine dining for weevils!

The last tree for today is a Canary Island date palm located on Crest drive in Encinitas. This tree has been attacked and essentially killed by the South American Palm Weevil. This pest is dining on Canary Island date palms in several cities in San Diego County. You don’t have to look far to find an infested and dying palm.

As a professional tree person, watching trees die is part of my job. It is an interesting and fascinating process that is part of the bigger cycle of life. I can’t tell you how many times I have been told “the tree was fine and then it just died!” Like the old saying, “stop and smell the roses,” goes, in this case we can say “stop and look at the trees.”


Tim Clancy & Associates LLC

P.O. Box 1180 –

Cardiff-by-the-Sea, CA 92007 International Society of Arboriculture Certified Arborist No. WE-0806A International Society of Arboriculture - Tree Risk Assessment Qualified


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