Natural La Jolla: Gold medallion tree makes La Jolla seem sunny

By Kelly Stewart

Recently, upon my return from the sunny Caribbean, where I was doing fieldwork with sea turtles all summer long, we had at least a week of pure gray skies and cool temperatures. And from what I hear and what I’ve experienced since being home, La Jolla has not had much of a summer to speak of, with the marine layer providing us with several cool and overcast days — or mornings at least.

However, I was struck by the glorious color presented by a certain tree that I saw along streets in La Jolla, one that made the village appear much more sunny than it was. The gold medallion tree,

Cassia leptophylla

, is a graceful and delicately leafy tree, with spikes of bright yellow blooms that last all summer long. The


blooms attract butterflies and other insects and the seedpods set from flowers pollinated by these insects. Being in the legume family, the gold medallion tree produces impressive seedpods that look like giant pea pods hanging down from the tree branches during the fall.

Originally from Brazil, where the trees thrive in disturbed areas and along the edge of forests, the tree is a popular choice for planting along boulevards throughout towns in California. If we can’t have sunny days, at least we can have sunny trees!

Kelly Stewart, Ph.D. is a postdoc with NOAA’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center. Contact her at