A Californian’s Guide to the Trees among Us

A guide to California’s most common urban trees

We bring the strength and beauty of the natural world into our urban landscapes by planting trees, and California is blessed with a rich horticultural history, visible in an abundance of cultivated trees that enrich our lives with extraordinary color, bizarre shapes, unusual textures, and unexpected aromas.

A Californian’s Guide to the Trees among Us features over 150 of California’s most commonly grown trees. Whether native or cultivated, these are the trees that muffle noise, create wildlife habitats, mitigate pollution, conserve energy, and make urban living healthier and more peaceful. Used as a field guide or read with pleasure for the liveliness of the prose, this book will allow readers to learn the stories behind the trees that shade our parks, grace our yards, and line our streets. Rich in photographs and illustrations, overflowing with anecdote and information, A Californian’s Guide to the Trees among Us opens our eyes to a world of beauty just outside our front doors.


“Matt Ritter's fascination with trees shines through in this wonderful book. Accurate and thorough but also very readable and well-illustrated, this is an excellent identification guide and at the same time a celebration of the trees that grow in California's cities and towns. Anyone who is curious about trees is sure to find education and inspiration in these pages.”

—David Sibley, author of The Sibley Guide to Trees and The Sibley Guide to Birds


“Ritter's work is great motivation for those of us who are intellectually adventurous within the playground that Mother Nature has given us.”

—Jamie Durie, Host of America's longest running gardening program, “Victory Garden”


“In simple and lucid prose, combined with his own photographs, Ritter teaches us how to look at a tree, how to identify it, how to use it, and, most importantly, how to enjoy it.”

—Richard G Turner, Jr; editor of Pacific Horticulture


“Matt Ritter has written that rarest of books—a guide that combines scientific and botanical accuracy with an engaging style and gorgeous photography that make it accessible to the general public. This superb book will introduce Californians to what is interesting and wonderful about the trees in their neighborhoods.”

—Mike Sullivan, San Francisco Recreation and Parks commissioner and author of Trees of San Francisco


“This is a great tree guide for all who also appreciate the historical perspective of our trees in California and their impact on our society, culture, and environment.”

—Pamela Geisel, coordinator, Statewide Master Gardener Program, and horticulture advisor at UC Cooperative Extension


“At last, a great reference to California's most commonly introduced landscape trees.”

—Tom Elias, author of Trees of North America


“A refreshing new reference with enough authoritative details, including up-to-date taxonomy and reflective graphics coupled with good cultural interest comments, suggests that this is a ‘first grab’ reference for both students and environmental masters alike.”

—David Dockter, environmental planner and arborist for the city of Palo Alto and director of the International Society of Arboriculture


“A cornucopia of information that is accessible to the novice enthusiast or most devoted urbanite yet will also be interesting to the professional botanist....[I]nformative and enjoyable.”

—Adam C. Schneider, Plant Science Bulletin

About the Author

Matt RitterMatt Ritter studies cultivated trees and trees that escape cultivation. He has a bachelor’s degree in microbiology and a Ph.D. in plant development biology. He is currently a botany professor in the biological sciences department at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, and director of the plant conservatory there. He has authored numerous scientific papers about plants and contributed to botanical references including the upcoming second edition of the Jepson Manual: Higher Plants of California and the Flora of North America Project. He holds a Kenan Fellowship at the National Tropical Botanical Gardens, is the Ray Collett Visiting Scholar at the UC Santa Cruz arboretum, teaches for the Organization of Tropical Studies in Costa Rica, and is the chair of the City of San Luis Obispo Tree Committee. Visit his website at: www.mattritter.net.