Interview with Steve Brown: The Cypress Lawn Arboretum and Arbor Day

What is the purpose and history of Arbor Day?

Some say the first documented Arbor Day was the arbor plantation festival held in the Spanish village of Mondoñedo back in 1594. In the U.S., Arbor Day was founded in 1872 by Nebraskan J. Sterling Morton with the purpose of encouraging people and groups to plant and care for trees. On the first Arbor Day on April 10, 1872, an estimated one million trees were planted! By the 1920s, each state in the U.S. had passed laws that recognized Arbor Day. Though usually observed in the spring, the date varies from state to state, depending on climate and the best planting season.

Why is it important for Cypress Lawn to recognize Arbor Day?Steve Brown - Arboretum

Trees are at the center of much of what we do here at Cypress Lawn Cemetery. We observe tree planting in our beautiful arboretum all year, and we offer tree tours as a community service and educational experience through the Cypress Lawn Heritage Foundation. There are also opportunities for families to memorialize their loved ones through the Foundation’s Horticultural Remembrance Program while enhancing the natural charm and heritage of Cypress Lawn Memorial Park and arboretum. This program is a part of our Living Legacy Society.

What is unique about the Cypress Lawn arboretum?

Cypress Lawn was established with a park-like setting where families, friends, and loved ones could enjoy time paying their respects to and communing with their ancestors and friends. The founders wanted to create a beautiful garden that reflected their philosophy of providing beautiful, well-cared-for facilities. William Hamden Noble and his contemporaries of the day, such as Adolph Sutro, actively brought in plant materials from around the world and established them along the peninsula to improve appearance and property values. Because of this effort, and because Cypress Lawn has existed for over a century, our arboretum is an amazing resource for seeing mature trees from all parts of the world.

It is also an excellent repository of plants used for their symbolic meaning in horticulture and cemetery art. Many plants, trees, and shrubs have been established due to their conveyance of love, grief, happiness, or religious meaning, very much like the use of plant materials in art and architecture. For example, the acacia tree is often used to symbolize the immortality of the soul. Anemones are symbolic of the transience of life. Apples are planted to symbolize sin. Birch trees are viewed in Celtic culture as having the ability to infuse the dead with nutrients necessary for the afterlife.

Tell us about some of the species of trees indigenous to northern California that people can see at Cypress Lawn?

Trees indigenous to this area of Northern California are rare, so most of the trees here are transplants from other parts of California and the world. The live oak, scrub oak, and a couple of pines are the only trees truly native to the San Francisco Bay Area.

Could you tell about us one or two trees at Cypress Lawn that you think are particularly special?

There are many significant trees at Cypress Lawn. One I like to show people is the cork oak, because it is used to make cork in the wine industry, and it is as old as the Cypress Lawn Cemetery itself. Another stunning tree is known as the weeping tree. It is evergreen and symbolizes eternity. It is also a tree that is very difficult to establish in this area, although it has done very well at Cypress Lawn.

Be sure to join Steve Brown for the Cypress Lawn Annual Arbor Day Walking Tour:

An Afternoon of Horticultural Delights

Saturday, April 22

1:30 PM

Meet at the green tent on the east side of the cemetery.

For more information, contact Terry Hamburg at 650-550-8810