Francesco Franceschi

Channel Island Challenges

March 12, 1843
Today is the birthday of the Italian-American horticulturist Francesco Franceschi (“fran-CHESS-ko fran-CHESS-key”).

Born in Italy, Francesco changed his name after coming to America and settling in Santa Barbara, California.

With a temperate Mediterranean climate, Santa Barbara became a haven for plant lovers in the 1800s. Francesco’s work elevated him in the plant community. He planted a boulevard of impressive Italian Stone Pines and lined another main avenue with Palm Trees.

Always looking for new varieties, Francesco brought Italian Zucchini to California and introduced exciting new plants like Cape Pittosporum, Floss Silk, and Naked Coral Trees to California. Francesco was fluent in seven languages and communicated with botanists, collectors, and explorers from Europe and South America.

Regarding legacy, Francesco is remembered for bringing more exotic plants to Southern California than any other man. One specimen that made Francesco famous was Catalina Ironwood; how he sourced the tree is legendary.

In 1894, Francesco traveled to the Channel Islands to get the Catalina Ironwood. Tragically, this expedition was beset with all kinds of challenges. When the rough waters threatened to sink their vessel, Francesco’s sons had to jump out of the boat. Seeing the commotion and suspecting the Francheschi’s were smugglers, the Coast Guard fired on them. Yet despite these close calls, Francesco achieved his goal and managed to bring an entire burl stump of Catalina Ironwood to Santa Barbara.

Once he was home, Francesco propagated new Ironwoods from the suckers that formed on the stump, and one of these offspring ended up at the Botanic Garden at UC Berkeley. Forty years after Francesco’s rocky trip to the Channel Islands, Santa Barbara made the Catalina Ironwood (Lyonothamnus floribundus ssp. floribundus) the city’s official tree.

Today, next to the space where Francesco’s nursery used to be, an oceanside park bears Francesco’s name.

And if you’ve ever lamented the way botanical plant names change over time, you’d be in good company with Francesco, who — after learning that Persea gratissima was updated to Persea americana — said,

“One cannot protest strongly enough against this modern craziness of creating new names for old things.” 

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Francesco Franceschi
Francesco Franceschi

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