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The Ellwood Queen

We all know Ellwood Cooper left his mark on the Goleta Valley, in a good way. He planted thousands of trees around our area and many of them still exist. But there is one tree that stands above them all, literally.

The Ellwood Queen is a prime specimen of a Lemon-Scented Gum tree planted by Mr. Cooper in 1887 on his gorgeous ranch in western Goleta. The Lemon-Scented Gum is a close relative of the Eucalyptus, one of Ellwood’s favorites, and many folks get them confused. Due to their regal beauty and their drought resistance, they became quite popular and were planted throughout California as an ornamental tree.

David Gress photos

Its unique, pinkish-white bark is smooth to the touch and its long trunk can lift the tree to heights well over 100 feet. Pick a leaf, crush it between your fingers and you’ll notice a lemony smell, also, the sap the tree emits is quite sticky or gummy. So, it stands to reason, its common name is Lemon-Scented Gum Tree.

In the 1880’s, Ellwood brought many varieties of trees from all over the world to Goleta for a variety of reasons. He brought the Lemon-Scented Gum trees from Australia and planted this one in 1887. Today, this is the largest of its kind in California, measuring over 140 feet tall, a crown spread of over 95 feet, and a trunk almost 14 feet around. Early in the 1900’s it was crowned the “Ellwood Queen” and today, well over 100 years old, she still stands tall and proud.

This early photo is from a U.S. Bureau of Forestry bulletin published in 1902. The caption notes that it was only 15 years old at that time! Quite remarkable how tall it had grown since it was just planted in 1887.

In 1921, the Doty family bought the Ellwood Ranch and the Queen watched as the next chapter unfolded. She can be seen towering in the overexposed background. The Doty’s would become excellent caretakers for the Queen.

In 1940, renown photographer Josef Muench came to Ellwood Ranch to photograph the Queen for a book by Maunsell Van Rensselaer called “Trees of Santa Barbara”. Van Rensselaer wrote it was, “the tallest known tree of any kind in this region”.

Donna Doty Lane provided us with this note card her father wrote that was clearly related to Van Rensselaer’s book, since it’s the same year and he quotes the same measurements.

In the late 1940’s a fire destroyed the old boarding house on the ranch and again, the Queen can be seen lurking in the background, luckily at a safe distance.

In 1956, Sunset magazine featured the Ellwood Queen in an article about exceptional California trees.

The article offers a brief biography of Ellwood Cooper, directions to see the tree and this photo of the tree in 1956. The car may look outdated, but the Queen hasn’t changed a bit! She never goes out of style.

This colorized photo from the 1950’s was also sent to us by Donna Doty Lane. Clearly the Doty family appreciated the beauty and history of the Ellwood Queen, and their stewardship is a big part of why she still stands today.

In 2015, horticulturalist Randy Baldwin of San Marcos Growers and his associates measured the Ellwood Queen at 142 feet tall with an average canopy of 96 feet wide and 165 inches in girth. They had the tree listed on the California Big Tree Registry as a National Champion.

Ellwood’s beautiful old red barn and other historic buildings also still stand on this property. All of them are of considerable historic value and should be preserved.

The red arrow shows where the Ellwood Queen has been growing for over a century, just inside the city limits and tucked between developments. At the end of 2021, we learned someone from out of town bought this property and rumors swirled that they had plans to develop, since that’s the way the story usually goes in Goleta. We contacted the city and spoke with multiple tree experts that all agreed, the Ellwood Queen is worth saving, so we quickly published a story about the tree and the property in the hopes of saving it from disaster. Fortunately, the new owners appreciated the history of Ellwood Cooper, the National Champion Tree, and his old ranch buildings. They saw the historic value of this special property and decided to save it!

Today, they are proud to be the new keepers of the Ellwood Queen and have been working hard to restore the whole property after years of neglect. In a 2023 conversation with us, the new owner said, “We love this land and the Ellwood Cooper Ranch story with its rich and colorful history. We are so proud to be the stewards of this land. We do not plan to subdivide it, tear down any buildings or do anything drastic to the property now or ever. “

This is exceptionally good news for the Goleta community and our future generations, and we will remember these words forever.

If you want to see the Ellwood Queen, please remember it is on PRIVATE PROPERTY. But you can see it from Ellwood Ridge Road, just take care not to block the road.

Besides the “Ellwood Queen”, there are several well-known and historic Lemon-Scented Gums in Santa Barbara.  The “Fernald Eucalyptus”, standing on the east side of the 400 block of Santa Barbara Street, was saved by Pearl Chase when that block was being developed. 

These Lemon-Scented Gum trees in front of the Santa Barbara Library have been designated historic landmarks by the city of Santa Barbara thanks to efforts by Bob Cunningham. There are more remarkable specimens in the 5 Points Shopping Center parking lot.

But the Ellwood Queen was planted by Ellwood Cooper, one of the forefathers of Goleta, and that makes it even more important to our history. We hope the Ellwood Queen will join the others as a protected tree for future generations to enjoy and learn about Goleta’s rich agricultural history.

Sources: David Gress, Donna Doty Lane, Randy Baldwin, Ken Knight, Bob Cunningham, RadRanchLove

Categories: Goleta History

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Tom Modugno

10 replies

  1. Tom, you really know how to present fascinating articles. Sure hope the developers build around it, like that one tree on State street that is an internal part of a restaurant’s interior. Gary

  2. Thanks for another wonderful history lesson in which old wood barns and remarkable trees are the main characters. Long Live the Elwood Queen! I truly believe she (and others like her) are key to our human survival and all other life on earth.

  3. I remember that tree! We owned “Jonestown” at the top end of Ellwood Ridge Rd., until 2016. That property, the “Ellwood Ranch”, is full of history. It is written about in other books , like, “14 at the Table” by Walker Tompkins- Horace Sexton. (Good book-if you can find it)
    I can remember driving my 55’ Auston Healey down the road headed out to San Marcos High in the early 70’s and seeing “the Queen” rising up over the barn. Though it didn’t mean anything to me at the time. She is a part of a crooked line of eucalyptus following the private road into the ranch.

  4. Tom….excellent story…..your written prose seems to make old things such as trees and barns come alive again……Thompkins, Rughe, Graffy…..and now you…..Thank you

  5. Hello Tom,

    A well researched article. Thank you. I am pretty sure I was enrolled in the Environmental Studies program at UCSB with Randy. I have been living in Australia for over thirty years and love being surrounded by a multitude of Eucalyptus trees. A few with a resident leaf eating Koala.
    By memory, the UCSB campus has quite a few Lemon scented gums.
    Was it Mr Elwood that planted all the groves of Eucalyptus trees near Winchester Canyon?

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