At the corner of Harrison and 25th Streets, a giant sequoia tree (sequoiadendron giganteum) in Garfield Square snapped nearly in half around 5 p.m. Tuesday, wrecking several cars and a telephone pole.
The compromised tree may date to the founding of Garfield Square in 1884, according to a 2012 communication from Recreation and Parks Department manager Eric Andersen.
The giant sequoia has spread itself far, with three trunks and numerous branches growing from each limb. One of its trunks snapped clean off in the wind. There were no injuries.
“Giant sequoias are supposed to grow straight and strong. Because it’s so windy here, they grow three trunks,” said Antonio Caceres, who works in Garfield Square with San Francisco Recreation and Parks. “Now that one side’s gone, it’s liable to either fall this way or that.”
Caceres speculated that the tree will likely have to be removed entirely.
A man in his 60s pulled over in his car, got out and stared in amazement. The driver, who preferred to remain anonymous, said he grew up in Silver Terrace and has passed by the tree every day for years on his way over Bernal.
“I never gave the tree a hug. I miss that I never did. To see this big-ass tree — it has to be over 100 years old.”
If the tree does indeed date back to the founding of Garfield Square, it’d be pushing 140. Among Rec and Park staff, some say it’s 200 years old, which would predate the founding of San Francisco and may be a bit of hyperbole. The oldest photo evidence Rec and Park could find of the tree dates to 1938.
A city gardener, who declined to give his name, stopped in at the scene and said the tree formed the way it did due to elevation.
“It’s very low. They usually like 8,000- to 12,000-feet elevation, like in the mountains, where they grow straight up. I think that’s why this is so multi-trunked, because there’s wind constantly coming from one direction, and to get as much sun as possible.”
The gardener pointed to abundant gray fungus spreading in the trunk of the tree. Standing nearby, you can pick up its stale, earthy smell.
“There’s more fog here than it’s used to. I believe they’re going to, likely, have to take it down. If they just cut off parts of it, it will grow funny.”
The aging tree may always have been a fish out of water — and it’s also a rarity. A form from the Urban Forestry Council lists it as one of only four sequoia trees in San Francisco parks.
The massive fallen limb cut off the internet along Harrison Street and over to Glen Park, which is served via the same line. This was confirmed by Henry Ahching of Sonic, who was on site to restore the wires.
Staff in Garfield Square’s Recreation and Parks office were working without the internet. “I’m on a hotspot,” said Kimberly Burdeen.
She, too, thought it was likely that Public Works will have to take the whole tree down. Kids and dogs constantly play on and around the tree, said Burdeen.
Semaj Jefferson, sitting next to Burdeen, noted that the fall could have been fatal: “There were people sleeping in the backseat of that car.”
Many people walking by were lamenting the giant’s state. Caceres sighed. “It’s sad we’re losing that tree — but it kinda shouldn’t have been there.”