TREES, PLEASE! Tiki Carved Trees

By Tim Clancy, for Let's Talk Plants! May 2022.

Tim Clancy
Tiki twofer in Carlsbad, California.

Almost 100 years ago the tiki culture became popular in the United States. One of the first tiki themed bars was opened in Hollywood in 1934. Tropical fabrics and furniture greeted customers as they entered the establishment. Celebrities frequented the bar. Donn Beach was the name of the brains behind a successful restaurant chain called Don the Beachcomber. Mr. Beach is thought by some to be the father of tiki culture. Eventually spreading worldwide, tiki culture takes much of its influence from Polynesian practices, however there are other cultural influences such as drinks made with typically Caribbean ingredients.

Trader Vics was another tiki inspired business and was in direct competition with Don the Beachcomber establishments. Tiki culture was extremely popular in the 1940s and 1950s as a result of soldiers who spent time in the South Pacific during WWII. The tiki culture depicted in these businesses was an idealized one and represented fond memories for many.

What does this have to do with trees? Well, over the years, I have seen trees carved into tiki statues. Some pretty basic and some obviously done by talented individuals. Swami’s beach in Encinitas is “lucky” enough to have two examples of tiki gods visible from the 101 as you drive by.

Tim Clancy
Encinitas, California tiki god.

It is my understanding that the carvings were sanctioned by the Encinitas Arts Commission.

Apparently, originality was in short supply that week and the tiki gods seemed like a good idea.

The tikis are carved in the trunks of what were two Pinus torreyana (Torrey Island pines) trees. Both trees were about the same age and died slow and agonizing deaths due to foot traffic. As people walked and recreated on the turf where the trees were planted, they compacted the soil making it difficult for water to penetrate and be available for the trees. While they didn’t die in the same year it was close together, especially in tree time. (Which is very slow and in theory kind of like dog years but opposite.)

Tim Clancy
Tiki afro. Pacific Beach, California.

Anyway, the Tikis are supposed to be a nod to the surfing culture in general and Encinitas in particular. Nothing wrong with that sentiment for sure. However, you don’t have to look hard to find something that represents the surfing culture in Encinitas. For instance, one of many places is just down the road about ½ mile, the world famous “Cardiff Kook.”

I would have much preferred that the trunks were carved into trees. Imagine that! A tree trunk carved into a tree, maybe a Torrey pine? Something a little more dignified than being associated with the Mai Tai! (PSA - Drinking Mai Tais while not undignified, may lead to undignified actions.)

Tim Clancy
"Just couldn't wait!" When you carve one dead palm, you might as well carve the live one next to it as well.

But wait, there’s more. Carlsbad is home to some “tiki art” as well. This time the trees are Mexican fan palms. Not something new, as I have seen palms with tikis carved in them many times, however, in this case not only did the carving take place on a dead tree but also on a perfectly functioning live tree that was, in effect, vandalized in the name of art. The quality of the artwork is indeed exceptional, and it is evident that the artist is someone who takes pride in their work. But damaging living tissue exposes the palm to a few diseases, one in particular being pink rot which is a fungal disease that loves the ocean climate and Mexican fan palms. Does this mean that the exposed tree will be attacked by pink rot? No, it does not, but it increases the chances tremendously.

What would we do without 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