SMC's Giant Tree

"A long term survivor  

      in a Snapchat world"


Just a few steps away from the Pearl Street entrance of SMC several students are taking it easy as they sit under the wide canopy of a very large and beautiful tree.

It’s easy to be astonished by the tree’s magnificence and intrigued by its shape and presence. It has a massive curving trunk and beautiful twisting roots. Thick, heavy branches stretch out w-i-d-e underneath dense dark-green leaves. This tree is noticeably full of life. It’s easy to imagine it coming alive like an angry tree in an orchard throwing apples at Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz.

“We call it the ‘Rubber Tree,” says Tom Corpus, SMC’s Grounds Supervisor. “And that’s kinda what they have called it. I don’t know why they call it that. It looks like a rubber tree. But it’s a Moreton Fig."

Best-known for their visually striking above-ground roots which also grow aggressively underground, Moreton Bay Fig trees are also known for their “land of the giants” size. In their native Australia they can grow up to 200 feet high.

Corpus has been SMC’s Grounds Supervisor for 27 years and he knows this Moreton Bay Fig tree like the back of his hand. He’s pleasant, stout, and crisply dressed with an easy laugh, neatly cropped hair and tanned arms freckled by the sun.

Sitting in a meeting room in the maintenance office near SMC’s swim center, he peers through glasses at a mobile phone while making calls to the employees who care for SMC’s 38 acres. “It’s big,” he says of the tree which has a relative near SMC’s Counseling Center.

There are more well-known Moreton Figs growing in Southern California. They’re rock-star trees located on Santa Barbara’s State Street, in San Diego’s Balboa Park and here in Santa Monica at the end of a long driveway at the storied Fairmont-Miramar Hotel where the hotel’s signature restaurant is named “Fig.”

Corpus uses his experience to estimate the size of the fig tree growing mightily near the Letters and Science building. “It’s probably 60 to 80 feet tall and…100 feet across,” he says.

While not on any official registries of giant trees in California, this tree has its fans on campus. Students meet under its massive branches daily, sitting on the large concrete circle that surrounds it’s thick and twisted above-ground roots. Some hold skateboards, others sip from huge cans of energy drinks while enjoying its lovely shade. Occasionally groups stop by to observe it.

“It’s a nice place to sit and relax and have a break from the sun,” says Allison Morales, an International Business major at SMC. She’s sitting with classmate Mari Psuchida on the concrete ledge that surrounds the tangled above ground roots of the tree. “It’s definitely soothing and relaxing. It’s really nice to see the squirrels running around.”

“It’s definitely soothing and relaxing. It’s really nice to see the squirrels running around.”

But there are characteristics of the tree that require considerable time to manage.

“I’m trying to treat it with a hormone which will keep it from dropping those berries,” says Corpus with a bit of irritation in his voice. The berries, Corpus explains, are small pieces of fruit that fall from the tree and shower the pavement beneath it, creating a hazard to people walking past. “You walk underneath that tree after they’ve dropped for awhile and you’ll twist an ankle or you’ll slip and fall,” says Corpus. Go out there some morning after things have fallen down. You can’t walk through there without stepping on something.” It’s Corpus’ crew that removes the berries and pressure washes the pavement to remove their stains, giving students and visitors safe passage.

Estimates are that this spectacular Moreton Bay Fig was planted sometime around 1952. Unlike so many other things pushed aside, redeveloped or priced out of Santa Monica, it has flourished for more than six decades. It's a long-term survivor in a Snapchat world.

As she enjoys a break from the rat race, chatting and laughing with a friend underneath the tree and its lovely branches, Morales says, "It’s a nice break from reality… paying attention to different details. Just the juxtaposition of leaves falling, and nature happening, and people walking around on their phones — it’s interesting.”