Matthew: Ash Street, Beech Street, Cedar Street...Hawthorn, Ivy, Kalmia, Laurel... Uh, wait a minute. Kalmia? Redwood, Spruce, Thom, Upas.... Upas? Does a kalmia grow on Kalmia or a upas on Upas?
— Tree Hugger, Uptown
There might be a kalmia on Kalmia, though our climate’s a little hot for them. Kalmia is a catch-all name for some shrubs in the laurel family (e.g., mountain laurel, Western laurel). Redundant Street might be an alternate name, considering it’s only a block from Laurel itself. And we can only hope there’s no upas on Upas. It’s a tropical tree of southern Asia with a very bad rep — so bad, in fact, that it’s a common British metaphor (very useful in political debates) for someone or something so evil that it poisons everything around it. A blend of tree myth and tree fact.
Myth: Upas sap is so poisonous that it kills any bird that lands on a branch; it kills any person who walks under or even near it without full-body covering; it kills all plants that might sprout under or for miles around it. This was mostly 18th-century explorer hyperbole. Truth: Certain alkaloids in upas sap are toxic, and Asian hunters used it in combination with other plant-derived poisons on the tips of hunting arrows. Come to think of it, the leaves and blossoms of kalmias are toxic, too. San Diego’s strange street-namers strike again....