Features & Columns

'Our City Forest' tours
at Rosicrucian Park

Our City Forest takes visitors on tours through the exotic trees of mystery at Rosicrucian Park in San Jose
EXOTIC GREENS: Rosicrucian Park in San Jose boasts many exotic flora specimens.

A long time ago, I visited Rosicrucian Park and learned about the Bunya pine trees located throughout the property. These trees feature huge cones that grow to the size of footballs and often fall onto the heads of passersby. A Rosicrucian told me they had to eventually install warning signs, instructing visitors not to disturb the trees, as they risk getting injured by the pine cones.

Well, thanks to Nancy Nordman of Our City Forest, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation of San Jose's urban ecosystem, exotic tree tours of Rosicrucian Park are now offered. From 2 to 3pm, every Saturday for the rest of March, the tours are free and anyone can attend.

First, some history: The Rosicrucians first emerged in San Jose in the late '20s. The original Imperator Harvey Spencer Lewis traveled to Toulouse, France, in 1909, where he was initiated into esoteric traditions supposedly going all the way back to Akhenaton's time in ancient Egypt. According to Lewis' writings, ancient Egyptians and Persians probably settled in the Toulouse area, brought esoteric teachings with them, instilled those teachings into that part of the world, and hence, everything you know about the history of southern France is wrong.

After being initiated in Toulouse, Lewis was given permission to launch the Rosicrucian tradition in America and eventually settled in San Jose to build Rosicrucian Park.

Today, that park is an exotic oasis amid suburbia, and Nordman plans to enlighten everyone about the menagerie of fauna highlighting the grounds. Nordman, who has a degree in ecology, evolution and biodiversity from UC-Davis, will reveal secrets about the olive tree (Olea europaea), a silver-colored tree known around the world as a symbol for peace.

She will also point out the Irish Yew (Taxus baccata), an ancient tree that lives thousands of years. And of course, she will include the football-size cones of the Bunya Pine (Araucaria bidwillii), which is actually native to Queensland and is one of the most unique trees at the park.

"There's tons of trees there, they're close together and there's a bunch of different species," she tells me. "It's a great opportunity for people to walk around and get a lot of knowledge all in one place."

But she says it will be a conversational, informal type of tour. Attendees will not be overwhelmed with exotic concepts or terminology. No ritualistic initiations are necessary.

"I picked out the trees I thought were particularly exotic or particularly interesting that maybe people haven't seen before," she explains. "There are a surprising number of exotic trees all over San Jose that people probably don't realize are exotic. For example, Rosicrucian Park has many palm trees, but you can see palm trees all over San Jose, but there are many others that you don't see very frequently."

For example, the Bunya pine is also known as the monkey puzzle tree. It is a very rare tree, which is why the knowledge should be preserved. Even better, Rosicrucian Park is easy to get to. Across the street, one discovers free parking—an exotic concept in San Jose, if ever there was one. So park your car and go get some tree knowledge.

"The basic goal is really to get people outside and to get people appreciating the urban forest because it really is such an important part of our urban city that tends to go unnoticed sometimes," declares Nordman. "San Jose is really trying to adopt a green vision right now, so we really want to support that and help people appreciate the trees and want to be around the trees more."

To me, this makes sense. I have always viewed what I call the "San Jose Condition" as a harmonious tension between urban and suburban, between native and exotic. Rosicrucian Park exemplifies that harmony quite well. If San Jose just looks inside itself, it will find quite an interesting exotic ecosystem, right here at the suburban confines of Park and Naglee. I think Akhenaton and the Toulousains would be proud.

Rosicrucian Park Tree Tours

Saturdays, 2pm