On a recent afternoon, Stephanie Carrie walked up to a cork oak tree on Potomac Avenue, a residential street in Mid-City, and put her hand up against the bark. She looked up at the tree in awe, taking in its multi-colored green leaves, and then continued admiring the trees that lined the neighborhood streets.
Carrie, a screenwriter and Southern California native who lives in Culver City, is behind the colorful Instagram account, Trees of LA.
When you visit the account, you’ll find a gallery of photos that shows some of the urban trees that give an element of beauty to L.A. streets and parks in addition to much-needed shade on hot days. And you’ll learn about Los Angeles tree trivia. (For example, the angel‘s trumpet, a common Southern California tree with large fragrant bell-shaped blooms, is beautiful to look at and native to South America but it can be toxic if ingested.)
With a following of more than 13,000 tree lovers and enthusiasts, Trees of LA has become a place for Angelenos and other tree lovers to bond over their fondness of trees.
“I think that you don’t value a resource until you notice it,” Carrie said. “So growing appreciation for what’s around you seems like a great mission — or a silly Instagram.”
Despite the growing interest in the Trees of LA account, Carrie doesn’t consider herself a tree expert. Her Instagram account of photos of city trees, she said, “is just a hobby that got a little out of control,” but she’s serious about her tree appreciation, so much so that she’s on a mission to get what she likes to call “the underdog trees” of L.A. noticed.
When she started Trees of LA in 2016, she referenced botanist and Cal Poly biology professor Matt Ritter‘s 2016 book “A Californian’s Guide to the Trees Among Us,” which helped her identify trees in the early days of her exploration. Carrie’s desire to learn more about trees also led her to take an eight-hour eucalyptus intensive at the Los Angeles County Arboretum.
These days she can identify trees from memory, and on that rare occasion she gets stumped, she will use Google Lens, which helps users identify objects through a simple snap of a photo.
Carrie’s hobby has turned into a passion project, helping to bring awareness of urban forestry to Angelenos. One of her goals is to cure locals of their “tree blindness,” the idea that people are so busy that they rarely notice the trees living in their surroundings — maybe the exception being jacarandas in bloom each spring. She’s also hoping to spread the love of the city’s trees beyond A-list trees including the jacaranda and the palm tree.
“I’m not in it for the likes,” Carrie said about her Instagram account, “but I am in it, for, you know, getting people to appreciate the trees that they might not notice.” She jokingly mentioned that she is brainstorming ways to get the tree more likes.
Six years ago, she started actively observing her L.A. neighborhood during afternoon walks with her son. Carrie had just given birth to him and was on maternity leave, so she made going for walks part of her daily routine.
Being mentally present during those walks led her to discover beautiful trees, including the often overlooked Brisbane box, as well as create an online community for tree lovers. (In case you haven’t noticed, the Brisbane box looks like a large lollipop that grows white flowers in the spring.)
While Carrie is making a push to get people to notice trees, L.A. is also pushing to get more trees planted on city streets. “Trees of LA offers Angelenos a delightful look at a wide variety of species and often features examples of the 700,000 street trees maintained by StreetsLA,” said Greg Spotts, executive officer and chief sustainability officer of StreetsLA, formerly the Bureau of Street Services.
In 2019, Mayor Eric Garcetti set out an ambitious goal, part of Los Angeles’ Green New Deal, to have 90,000 trees planted throughout in L.A. Since then, the city has planted 65,000 trees. Today, Los Angeles is conducting an inventory of the city’s street trees, according to StreetsLA’s website.
During the recent walk through Mid-City, she checked out feathery tipu trees, desert willows with purple trumpet flowers, native oaks and jacarandas without their Instagram-worthy purple flowers.
“The more I learned about our urban forest and the disparity in different areas and inequality of where our canopy is, I started to become more passionate,” Carrie said about the lack of trees planted in certain L.A. neighborhoods, particularly those lived in for decades by people of color.
While she’s passionate about L.A.’s trees, Carrie has checked out trees in other parts of the world. There’s a large community of global tree enthusiasts who have Instagram accounts devoted to the trees of other international cities, including London and Barcelona. Earlier this year, Carrie took a trip to Mexico City, where she connected in real life with the person behind the Trees of Mexico City account. Together, they walked around Mexico City and, as Carrie likes to call it, “geeked out on trees.”
According to Carrie, there are many trees that have become “urban street tree staples” such as the jacaranda around the world. The tree, which also has its share of detractors, is popular in L.A. but can also be found in Mexico City as well as Dubai, Brazil, Spain and South Africa.
Despite the jacaranda’s popularity, Carrie likes another tree better. She prefers the gold medallion tree. Similar to the jacaranda, the tree also blooms with flowers — in its case, beautiful yellow ones. It isn’t very well-known in Los Angeles, but Carrie hopes the tree gets its moment in the spotlight soon.
“I’m a fan of the underdog tree,” Carrie said.