Local News

Fullerton Friendship Trees Have Roots in Sister City Program

Passing by City Hall on Highland, it’s easy to miss the trees planted alongside the building. Upon closer inspection, you may notice large signs in front of a few of these trees, marking them as Friendship Trees. Three distinct types of trees—magnolia, flowering cherry, and black pinewere planted by the Fullerton Sister City Association (FSCA) to symbolize Fullerton’s relationships with each of its sister cities: Morelia, Mexico; Fukui, Japan; and Yongin, South Korea.

The Sister City program started back in 1964 when the Fullerton Chamber of Commerce decided to explore the possibility of adopting a “Sister City.” According to the FSCA webpage, the Chamber of Commerce’s “search was inspired by the late President Eisenhower’s People to People program, created in 1956 to increase tolerance and understanding through direct contact of individuals with people from different cultures. Because so many residents of Fullerton – in fact, many Californians – have ties to Mexico, it seemed right to look first in that country.”

The city of Morelia, capitol of the state of Michoacan, located in central Mexico, became Fullerton’s first Sister City. At the time, a group of citizens from Fullerton, including the first FSCA president, Art Gratner, made a trip south in May of 1965 to seal the deal. The visit was reciprocated two months later in July of 1965 when a signing celebration was held. This was when the non-profit organization, “Fullerton Sister City Association,” was founded. A magnolia tree was planted outside of City Hall in 2000 to commemorate the 35th year of the Sister City relationship between Morelia and Fullerton.

Magnolia friendship tree from Morelia, Mexico.

Magnolias tend to bloom around this time of year in late winter and early spring. According to a 1985 Los Angeles Times article by Robert Smaus, titled “Magnificent Magnolias,” magnolias “have the largest individual flowers of any temperate plant,” and for the most part, they’ve “remained relatively unchanged over the course of the last 100 million years.” Most deciduous magnolias can tolerate a fair amount of shade and still bloom, provided there’s adequate sunlight from overhead.

It wasn’t until 1989 that Fullerton began reaching out to find our second Sister City. The city of Fukui, Japan was suggested, so Fullerton residents made a trip to Fukui, located in the Chubu region of Japan. Mayor Molly McClanahan signed the official documents, and flowering cherry trees were planted at the Muckenthaler Cultural Center and outside Fullerton City Hall to symbolize the new relationship between Fukui and Fullerton.

Japanese cherry tree friendship tree from Fukui, Japan.

In Japan, the cherry blossom, also known as sakura, has been the national flower for centuries and is a symbol for the country itself. According to gardenia.net, Prunus serrulata (Japanese Flowering Cherry) are known for their growth of pink and white flowers in early to mid-spring. According to Garden Design, temperature tends to have a greater impact on the cherry trees than the amount of sunlight or precipitation on tree bloom time. Interestingly, flowering cherry trees were first introduced to the United States in 1902 and since then, they have been celebrated annually in many cities across the country during their spring awakening. They’re incredibly beautiful when in full bloom. The Fukui Friendship Tree we see today is a Prunus serrulata or Pink Cloud flowering cherry tree, brought to Fullerton by a delegation from Fukui in March of 1992, with the formal planting ceremony taking place on March 29 of that same year.

In order to reflect the increasing number of Korean residents in Fullerton, Yongin, South Korea was added as our third Sister City in 2004. A black pine joined the other two Friendship Trees outside City Hall after a group of Sister City members and local officials flew to South Korea together to take part in signing festivities and visit our newest Sister City.

Korean pine Friendship tree (left) from Yongin, South Korea, and Japanese cherry Friendship tree (right).

According to the American Conifer Society website, “Korean pine is an evergreen, coniferous species of tree that grows to mature heights of 100 feet (30 m) tall with a trunk up to 60 inches (150 cm) in diameter at breast height.” Korean pine seeds are extensively harvested and sold as pine nuts. It’s the most widely traded pine nut in international commerce. The Yongin Friendship Tree was presented to Fullerton as part of the City’s Covenant-signing ceremony on May 4, 2004.

The Fullerton Sister City Association still plays an important part in representing our community today by sharing ideas, cultures, and goodwill with Fullerton’s established sister cities. In years past, the City has hosted visitors from the different sister cities and planned trips to keep our communication strong and cultural exchanges in full force.

Toward the end of March, I had a chance to walk through the Friendship Tree garden on the side of City Hall with my mask and camera in hand. Starting on a short dirt path, I first saw a sign for the tree planted to commemorate Fullerton’s relationship with sister city Morelia, Mexico. The sign said, “Arbol De La Amistad,” meaning “friendship tree.” The tree looked really healthy with lots of green leaves on it. Stepping straight ahead down the dirt path, I encountered the Fukui Friendship Tree that was planted to celebrate our City’s relationship with Fukui, Japan. There were dark pink buds just starting to blossom on the branches. Looking toward the street, I spotted the Yongin Friendship Tree, the third and most recent Friendship Tree in the City Hall garden. The pine tree was also really green.

So, the next time you end up driving down Highland past City Hall, keep an eye out for the Fullerton Friendship Trees with signs underneath each of them that are pretty easy to read from out in the street.