A small bushy tree with small gray-green elliptical leaves about an inch long and ¼ inch wide. Small white flowers in spring are followed by woody ¼-inch seed capsules. The dark gray bark is shaggy and clothes fantastically distorted trunks. Under ordinary cultivation the display of flowers may be very handsome but most of the tea trees on campus are old and in tough locations. The name “tea tree” reflects the use of the leaves collected at Botany Bay for an infusion that was used at sea by Captain Cook to protect against scurvy; he must have been running low on the limes issued to him by the Admiralty.
There was a massive bank of hedge on Campus Drive East where it joins Junipero Serra Boulevard, but much of it was killed in the freeze of December 1972 and all the trees were removed. An outstanding, endangered, ancient grove at Terman Engineering Center survived building operations for many years but the scene-shifters ultimately triumphed. Look for survivors between the Ford Center barbecue and the adjacent parking lot.
There is a handsome row that has thankfully been allowed to grow to full-size trees screening a section of the tennis courts a few yards from the northwest corner of 652 Serra Complex. In bloom March 2005, they have the picturesque quality of mature specimens – aptly described in the Sunset Western Garden Book – displaying fibrous bark, finely textured foliage, and weeping branches.
One of the best trees for stabilizing beach sand, tea tree can be established by spreading ripe prunings whose seed capsules are ready to drop their seed.
About this Entry: The main text of this entry is from the book Trees of Stanford and Environs, by Ronald Bracewell, published 2005. John Rawlings added the Serra locations ca. 2005.