Question re tree name, alisal
Hi All, I just joined and my first search word was "alisal" for sycamore. El Alisal is the name of a home and garden in Los Angeles, named after an old sycamore in the courtyard. All I found on this dictionary was sicomorro. Is alisal considered regional? Thanks, Thomas
The dictionaries translate sycamore as sycomoro (which I've never seen used) or plátano. Plátano does seem to be a correct usage, and is the genus name of North American sycamore species, but is in much more common use referring to an unrelated, starchy banana.
Both alders and sycamores are riparian trees, that is, they both grow along stream courses, but their habitat requirements and growth habits are very different. Alders grow in dense stands right along the creek bank, with roots always in saturated soils. Sycamores grow away from the stream, on flood planes or alluvial fans, where they may be inundated by floods, but the gravelly soils drain quickly when the flood recedes. They grow as widely spaced, individual trees, not dense stands. They are not easily confused. Alders are much more common along the more permanent streams in Northern California than the more seasonal streams of Southern California where sycamores are more common. Alders may have been more broadly distributed in Southern California before agricultural water use began lowering water tables in the late 1800s.
Every reference to "aliso" that I have encountered in California has, if it specifies at all, referred to sycamores. There are 46 geographic features in California with "Aliso" in their names. The farthest north of them is in San Luis Obispo County in Central California. More than half of them are in Los Angeles and Orange Counties, where sycamores were very common (before development). There are 15 geographic features with "alisal" in their names. These extend farther north, but in dryer portions of eastern Monterey and Alameda Counties. There are no geographic names incorporating "sycomoro."
Los Angeles was founded on the banks of the Los Angeles River at the site of the largest native village in the Los Angeles Basin Yangna. The political heart of the village was the council tree, under which the village gathered for civic purposes. It was a very large and well documented sycamore tree named El Aliso.
Whether or not dictionaries agree, at least in California, aliso is well established as meaning sycamore, not alder.
Slight correction: Alisal is more precisely a grove alder trees, while an aliso is a single tree. This construction is parallel to encinal/encino. I live in a city named Alameda, which is a grove of poplar trees, or alamos. Most Americans don't know that the famous site in Texas called The Alamo means The Poplar.
Hi James, Confusing but fascinating. In English there are some plants with similar common names which look very distinct even to an untrained eye-- some of this variation in usage is plainly regional. Lots of the common plant names have real poetry, so we tend to hold on to those names-- even when the Latin names give us a great deal more botanical precision (and better guidance, even, if if we are considering what plant might do best in a garden.) You've been helpful.
I wondered if the two trees were closely related, so I got out my tree identification guide and looked up Sycamore. The California sycamore is also listed as Western sycamore and ... aliso! The Arizona sycamore is listed as Arizona Planetree and ... alamo! Very confusing.
When I translate botanical materials (from Japanese), it is often extremely difficult to find the right names of plants. Most plants have two or more names in English, in addition to their Latin names, and some of the names seem to overlap. The photos of alders and sycamores in my tree guide show leaves that look nothing alike, so I don't know how the trees could be confused.
Sorry I couldn't give you something more definite, but the tourists will probably be happy with either translation!
Many thanks for the weblink, and especially for further clarifying the different words for single trees and for groves. It's interesting that the Mason website mentions that even members of the Alisal Lodge made a similar mistake, saying the word meant sycamore rather than alder. (And in fact it means a grove of alders, plural-- good to know.) One of the docents at the El Alisal home and garden was asked what the name meant, and said the place was named after an old sycamore on the site. So this must be a fairly common confusion-- wonder how it got started? Are both alders and sycamores found near steady water in California? Maybe that was the source of confusion'
The link you have given relates to fifty years of masonry in California. Might be Interesting, because I used to be a mason.
Alisal is apparently a variant of aliso, and both mean alder tree. Some sources do give sycamore, but this is apparently incorrect (see the following site). This word is used for many place names in California because these trees are only indigenous to places with a steady supply of water, so their location was noted with interest by explorers.
Welcome to the forum
Thank you for posting your question in the thread title. Few new members do this.
Evelio, Thank you for your message. By the way, the El Alisal house and garden is a beautiful place-- well worth a visit, open to the public and visitors pay a small donation. It is in Highland Park off the Arroyo Seco freeway. The garden has many native California plants-- one of my interests. Thanks again, Thomas