Mapping The Sonoma Plaza Trees

Celebrating Sonoma’s Good Nature!
By Emily Charrier-Botts

The Sonoma Plaza is graced with 60 different types of trees, not to mention the many species of birds that make those trees home. Valley birder Tom Rusert worked with City Parks Supervisor Dave Chavoya and representatives of the Sonoma Valley Visitors Bureau to create a guide highlighting all of the ecological wonders of the Plaza that will help residents and visitors spot the difference between a Canary Island Palm and a California Fan Palm tree.

Called “Celebrate Sonoma’s Good Nature,” the brochure and map will be available at the visitors bureau in coming weeks, allowing the community to gain a better understanding of the natural beauty of California’s largest town square. “One of the things we are trying to do is bring new appreciation to this amazing asset,” Rusert said, adding that the Plaza is significant both ecologically and historically, making it a true treasure of the community. “Can you imagine how many important decisions have been made about California in this square? Very few cities can boast that they have all these elements in the same place.”

The map takes visitors on a full loop around the eight-acre square and includes the unique trees and birds that make up the Plaza. Because of the diverse range of trees, Rusert said the Plaza is truly an arboretum and should be celebrated as such. The map showcases 31 of the Plaza’s trees, which were selected as the best examples of various species.

“We couldn’t include every tree because it would be overwhelming, and there are repeats (of species of trees),” said Pat Pulvirenti, a visitors service representative at the visitors bureau, who helped create the map.
For wildlife enthusiasts, the brochure also includes a list of some of the common birds seen around the Plaza. “I worked with the Point Reyes Bird Observatory to determine what types of birds you’ll likely see in the Plaza,” Rusert said. “We’ve only scratched the surface. This is a wonderful, wonderful habitat for birds.”
For several years the visitors bureau has wanted to create a map of the Plaza trees. “We have so many visitors that walk into our office and say, ‘What type of tree is this?’ So the bureau began looking into a number of eco-tourism ventures,” said Wendy Peterson, the bureau’s executive director.
The bureau worked with the Sonoma Ecology Center to create a map, but it never came to fruition. Serendipitously, Rusert, proprietor of, was interested in creating a bird guide for the Plaza, highlighting the birds that live and nest within the square.
“We just decided to meld the projects,” Pulvirenti said. “It’s become a wonderfully collaborative effort.”

As the parks supervisor, Chavoya had a working knowledge of the trees on the Plaza and the group used his expertise when compiling the information for the map.
Rusert said the map can also help the city make decisions about future trees on the square. Having a detailed list of what trees already live in the Plaza will allow city officials to bring even more plant diversity in coming years. “We can really think about what trees would make good additions,” Rusert said.
The map was the first of many steps Rusert hopes to take to promote eco-tourism in the Valley. Down the road, he hopes to create a nature kiosk in the Plaza to promote the maps. He has already begun to create similar nature maps for Maxwell Farms Regional Park and the Sonoma Overlook Trail.
“This is a basic list, we expect it will be expanded,” Rusert said.
Organizers are looking for community members to give the guide a try. “We’d like to encourage the locals to use the map and give us feedback so we can keep making it better,” said Pulvirenti.
Maps will be available at the visitors bureau soon, but no release date has been announced yet. Call the bureau at 996-1090 for more information or to provide feedback on the guides.