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Palm & Pine

To get from downtown LA to the supposed center of California, you would have to take Route 5 north and eventually merge onto State Route 99.

About four hours and 235 miles later, you’ll see the landmark popularly known as “The Palm and the Pine” sitting inconspicuously on the median of Highway 99. If you squint, you might miss them – these two trees were planted to mark the supposed point separating the northern part of the state from, er, the sunnier southern part.

For as long as anyone can remember, they’ve stood in this spot – the supposed center of the state – like an odd couple of hitchhikers, as vehicles of all kinds zip back and forth between the two halves of the state. No plaques, no markings – which means most Californians and drivers probably don’t even know they exist, let alone their symbolic significance.

The end of an era

You have about a year or more to see this Californian curiosity for yourself, because the two trees are scheduled to be cut down to make way for that most typical Californian event – the expansion of a highway.

An aerial view of a highway with trees in the median and the words that indicate the location where The Pam and the Pine is located


Google Earth screenshot


The Caltrans project is scheduled to begin in fall 2025 and will widen Highway 99 from four to six lanes over an 8-mile stretch. The widening will include the installation of a concrete median divider for safety reasons — which will be built exactly where the palm and pine trees are today.

“We unfortunately have to remove the trees,” said Larry Johnson, a Caltrans spokesman for the area. “Because of the way the project is being handled, it simply cannot be in the median separation.”

All is not lost

To honor the original palm and pine, the agency plans to develop a new area right next to the highway – “west of where it is now,” Johnson said – to make things even more beautiful.

Instead of two trees, a small forest is planned.

“We’re going to plant 15 new palm trees and 15 new pine trees,” Johnson said, along with an irrigation system. “Hopefully the irrigation will allow these trees to flourish and last for the next hundred years.”

The Ballad of The Palm and The Pine

How the palm tree and the pine tree ended up side by side in the middle of a busy highway in central California is a story that fits into the best of California mythology – because no one really knows how it happened.

Caltrans’ Johnson said he’s read articles dating the trees to the 1920s — but that’s about it. He’s more certain about one thing: Caltrans replaced the pine after its predecessor was knocked down by a storm in the mid-2000s, he recalls.

“Caltrans apparently hasn’t documented this particular stretch of highway as well as one would expect,” said author and columnist Steve Newvine, who lives in the Central Valley and has written extensively about the two trees.

Newvine, a former television news anchor, learned about the palm and pine tree from a friend about 15 years ago. He was so fascinated by their symbolism that he began to delve deeper into their history.

“There are theories that a business owner may have planted trees in front of his business and then simply left them there when the highway was expanded,” Newvine said.

Another rumor Newvine heard was that the trees were planted by college students as part of a project. However, the best evidence Newvine found for the trees’ stubbornly mysterious origins is that Huell Howser himself was unable to solve the mystery.

“He did a half-hour show on California’s Gold” Newvine said. “After 30 minutes… he didn’t know, and nobody really knew for sure.”

A map with lines representing highways and names of nearby towns. A red arrow marks a place called

The center will not hold

One claim that has been refuted is that the trees are not actually located exactly in the center of the state.

“The real center of California is 40 miles east of these trees in a community called North Folk,” Newvine said.

Still, the landmark has become an indelible part of the California imagination. Not only has it been mentioned in a folk song, but its quirky poetry continues to inspire businesses looking for a cool name.

“To me, it’s an example of what’s possible in California. You can enjoy the warmth and the other benefits of the southern part of our state. And you can drive to the far reaches of the north and experience the seasonal weather,” Newvine said.

Regarding the removal of this symbol, the author said it was about “progress.” He recalled that in the past, when Highway 99 was so busy and dangerous, drivers were told to stay away.

“We’ll get through this, we’ll lose the trees,” Newvine said. “You’ll have 15 palm trees and 15 pine trees, I’m sure that will be a good representation of the region. I’m optimistic that it will be a positive way to showcase the communities.”

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