I saw these trees on Google Street view, and I really want to know what they are. They are located outside the back entrance to the Palace Hotel in San Francisco, California.

I may be able to physically visit if more detailed pictures help in identifying the trees.

Hotel Tree 1

enter image description here

leaves leaves2 bark

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    need to see a close up of the leaves
    – kevinskio
    Commented May 27, 2016 at 1:34
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    @kevinsky- I agree that close up pictures are needed for identification. But, "quiet", have you considered calling the hotel and just asking? I don't know when you will be able to physically take more pictures, or if those pots will still be on the sidewalk, when you do. I called their listed number, and you can be connected to a live operator. I chose not to do so, but I don't see why you shouldn't pursue it, yourself. The landscaper may be honored that you were wondering
    – Diane
    Commented May 27, 2016 at 2:23
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    Hi Diane! Thank you for reaching out. That is indeed a good idea, and I've already done so. I got in touch with the building manager for the hotel, but they haven't been able to track down the type of plant yet. I will follow up with them as well in a few days. If they get back to me, I will be sure to post their response!
    – quiet
    Commented May 27, 2016 at 2:33
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    Sweet! I would love to see the answer!
    – Diane
    Commented May 27, 2016 at 2:39
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    This looks to me like olive trees. But won't be sure until close-up pictures.
    – J. Chomel
    Commented May 27, 2016 at 7:56

3 Answers 3


The hotel has responded. The tree is the New Zealand Christmas Tree, scientific name Metrosideros Excelsa.

Apparently, the tree was popular in 1980s San Francisco, but residents have since discovered that its roots are particularly problematic because they destroy underground infrastructure lines. - New York Times

  • Wow, these trees are everywhere cause people like the red flowers at Xmas time. They're native to the south island of new Zealand, and we call them pōhutukawa trees, from the Maori name. People who are more "correct" would prefer we plant trees native to the north island in the North island. Commented Jun 1, 2016 at 7:04
  • Glad you found the answer! I just read the article nytimes.com/2010/08/27/us/27bcjames.html?_r=0, and I'm curious about whether you are going to try growing some in pots.
    – Diane
    Commented Jun 1, 2016 at 14:50

I really don't know, but I get the impression they might be magnolia trees. The leaves in the close-ups look about the same. They're a cold-hardy evergreen, and a nice sight. I used to see them all over Kentucky when I lived there. They have nice flowers. The trees can get large.

It might be a Little Gem magnolia.

  • The page suggests these are fragrant, but is this true only when flowering? Their scent was more neutral when I visited (but the trees were not flowering).
    – quiet
    Commented May 28, 2016 at 18:33
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    Shule- At first, I thought you might be right, but when I went to google street view, and enlarged it, I saw that the seed pods don't look like a Magnolia. They are very different. quiet- please see the link instantstreetview.com/@37.787596,-122.402262,52.99h,4.64p,2z
    – Diane
    Commented May 28, 2016 at 18:55
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    Here are magnolia seed pods. gardeningknowhow.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/…
    – Diane
    Commented May 28, 2016 at 18:58
  • @quiet Magnolia trees are not fragrant when they're not in bloom. Honestly, I didn't even smell them when they were in bloom, in Kentucky, but I didn't sniff them close up. So, they're not as fragrant from a distance, as say, a lilac bush. Commented May 28, 2016 at 20:44
  • @Diane How can you tell what the seed pods even look like in the first picture? :) We need a close-up. Commented May 28, 2016 at 20:44

I don't really know, either. But, this type of leaf and fruit was identified as Camellia Azalea in an older garden stack member post. I found it while I was searching "camellias" on google because the "fruits" or "nuts" look like the ones on my own camellia japonica (but the leaves are different than Camellia Azalea). I will post the other member's pictures, and look for separate confirmation.

I see from further research that is also called "Camellia Changii", and one site said that it was pretty rare and new in the USA. This may possibly be grafted onto different root stock (although apparently that is still challenging experts.)

It seems likely that the ritzy Palace Hotel could afford such a gem. I look forward to confirmation from them about whether it is a camellia azalea, a magnolia, or neither one. (I also see that there are many members of the "theaceae" family that look similar, but I do not see such a close match to leaf type.)

Here is the link to the enlarged google street view that I posted above. You can see the fruits. https://www.instantstreetview.com/@37.787596,-122.402262,52.99h,4.64p,2z

From a post 3 years ago-

What are these sphere-like things on my Camellia azalea tree? https://i.sstatic.net/Rlc7N.jpg

More pics here- It has the same leaves.


Camellia Changii- https://www.flickr.com/photos/kamelienfreunde/20391131664 Camellia changii (syn. Camellia azalea) Picture Camellia changii everblooming camellia

This remarkable species was discovered in 1984 and was introduced into the United States recently. It is now in a few public gardens and in the hands of commercial growers and breeders but, in 2015, is not yet available in nurseries or catalogs. The bright red flowers may be produced throughout the year, including summer months. It is reported to grow to about eight feet tall. Reportedly, flower size varies. The largest flowers are four to five inches across. With its summer flowering season, this plant could be a very important addition to the world of camellia gardeners. However, it is reported to be challenging to propagate and camellia hybridizers are having difficulty crossing this species with others in the genus.

  • 1
    – Diane
    Commented May 28, 2016 at 20:06
  • Thank you for your help Diane! The hotel responded with the name of a different tree (I added as a separate answer), but I sincerely can't the difference between yours and the "official" answer.
    – quiet
    Commented Jun 1, 2016 at 3:44
  • @quiet- No, problem! :) I learned some interesting new things while I was searching. So glad the hotel got back to you! New Zealand Christmas Tree looks beautiful.
    – Diane
    Commented Jun 1, 2016 at 14:04

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