Santa Barbara is famous for its spectacular views of the sea and its almost perfect weather, which has led many people to describe its climate in different moments as Mediterranean. That is the main reason why the city is often called the American Riviera in the United States. But Santa Barbara is well known for its many parks and beaches too, where people can relax and enjoy nature, or perhaps have a great time with family and friends doing different types of activities and sports.
Historical places are also prominent in Santa Barbara for its visitors to enjoy in different times of the year. One can mention, for example, Santa Barbara County Courthouse or Old Mission Santa Barbara, important not only due to their historical meaning for the Santa Barbara area, but also for the architectural beauty of their buildings. Other places have to do more with nature, such as Santa Barbara Zoo, the Museum of Natural History, or the magnificent botanical garden Lotusland with all its variety of trees, flowers, and other plants.
Santa Barbara can be seen in this way as a place full of wonders and secrets that its visitors must carefully uncover while they go across the city. And one of these secrets, perhaps the best kept one, is Santa Barbara’s Moreton Bay Fig Tree.
Located near the train station at the intersection of Montecito and Chapala, the Moreton Bay Fig Tree is a specimen that belongs to the species Ficus macrophylla, large evergreen banyan trees of the family Moraceae. This species of trees is originary from Australia, and more precisely, from the most eastern coast of the country. It is named after the Moreton Bay in Queensland, Australia, but it is also known as Australian banyan.
This species of trees is mainly known for its powerful, though delicate buttress roots. This feature can also be appreciated in the Santa Barbara specimen, which is taken to be the largest Ficus macrophylla in the United States. The total height of the tree is about 80 feet, whereas its roots, which are protected by a low chain that surrounds them, are nearly 5 feet tall. Its circumference is calculated to be 41.5 feet, measured at a height of 4.5 feet above the ground, whereas the widest spread of the branches is calculated to be around 198 feet.
Due to its size and its location in the middle of a suburb that only sees some bustling activity when a train is coming or going, it can be a bit odd for visitors to see such a grandiose tree standing in front of them for the first time. But its view pays the trip. It is really eye candy. You can certainly be amazed by its size when you spot it from a distance. But then you come closer and closer, and you become also amazed by the unfamiliar shape of its roots and its trunk.
The story goes that in 1876, a seaman was visiting Santa Barbara. He was walking the city, probably enjoying the view and the weather, and at some point, a local girl, whose name is unfortunately lost in history, caught his attention. The seaman approached the girl, and for some reason unknown to the generations to come, he gave the girl a seedling of an Australian Moreton Bay Fig tree. She decided to plant it at 201 State Street. However, she moved away a year later, and then her friend, Adeline Crabb, decided to transplant the tree to its current location, on the corner of Montecito and Chapala Streets, a place very close to the ocean, and that belonged to Southern Pacific Transportation Company at that time.
The tree has always impressed both locals and visitors. It is indeed a living, iconic landmark of Santa Barbara, and a symbol of the city that holds a special place in the hearts and souls of its citizens. It must therefore be recognized and sustained, but also shared with a friend, your family, or your special one. It clearly is a must see in Santa Barbara, and simply no one should pass it up. No doubt its beauty may turn you into a bit of a poet. And that surely helps to understand why it became officially designated as a Santa Barbara historical landmark in 1970. It appears as well in the California Register of Big Trees, a program of the Cal Fire and Cal Poly State University whose main purpose is to maintain a record of the largest specimen of each tree species growing in California, both native and naturalized.