• Sitting…looking up at oaks

    by  • May 6, 2011 • Plant Profiles, Sierra Foothills

    The Oaks of the Sierra foothills

    “I am sitting with a philosopher in the garden; he says again and again ‘I know that that’s a tree’, pointing to a tree that is near us. Someone else arrives and hears this, and I tell him: ‘This fellow isn’t insane. We are only doing philosophy.”
    — Ludwig Wittgenstein,  on Certainty

    You can sit nowhere in Sierra Foothill Garden without seeing an oak. The mighty oak. These are the three varieties we have.  I say the word ‘have’ loosely because I feel I’m here temporarily, as Indian Guy from “Ernest goes to Camp’ says “Who can own a tree? ” (Don’t these two quotes prove that I am well cultured?)

    Interior Live Oak

    Interior Live Oaks Quercus wislizenii

    Interior Live Oaks Quercus wislizenii, the most common oak here.

    The Interior Live Oak, Quercus wislizenii, is one of the red oaks, living mostly in the lower elevations of the Sierra Nevada. The leaves are oval and toothed and the flowers are catkins that hang down from the branch tips. They are often shrubby and when cut down, will regrow thickly from the base.  In April the catkins drop powdery yellow dust over all things near it and can cause allergies.  Also in April the oak worms spin webs all through the branches, reflecting the sun.

    Quercus wislizenii Interior Live Oak leaves and acorn

    Quercus wislizenii Interior Live Oak leaves and acorn

     

    Looking through the gnarled trunks of a live oak

    Looking through the gnarled trunks of a live oak

     

    Interior Live Oak, Quercus wislizenii, evergreen, here in December

    Interior Live Oak, Quercus wislizenii, evergreen, here in December

     

    California Black Oak

    California Black Oak Quercus kelloggii

    California Black Oak Quercus kelloggii, the tallest and most colorful in Fall.

    California Black Oak , Quercus kelloggii, is also in the red oak family and has leaves that are deeply lobed, pointed and sometimes as large as your hand. Taller in size and more upright than the Interior oak, the Black Oak is 30-70 ft in height and deciduous, making it very desirable in the garden because it turns bright gold, orange and red in the fall. The large leaves of the California Black Oak Quercus kelloggii, turn yellow in November.

    These leaves are from a Black oak, perfect for preserving

    These leaves are from a Black oak, perfect for preserving

    Oracle oaks

    Quercus morehus, Oracle Oak, is common here, but the most rare of oaks in California

    Quercus morehus, Oracle Oak, is common here, but one of the most rare of oaks in California

    Oracle oaks, Quercus morehus, only occurs in areas where there are lots of one of the parent species and not many of the other parent and between Oak ‘sub-tribes’ that are related to each other. The leaf looks like a cross between the big lobed Black Oak leaf and the small, sometimes serrated Live Oak leaf. It is an interesting occurrence and they are beautiful trees. They are deciduous and turn a mellow gold in Fall.

    An Oracle oak grows at the base of three tall pines

    An Oracle oak grows at the base of three tall pines

     

    Oracle oak leaves

    Oracle oak leaves

     

    The Oracle oak is the last to turn yellow in December

    The Oracle oak is the last to turn yellow in December

    More on this rare oak:  Discovering and identifying the Oracle Oak

     

    A. California Black Oak (Q. kelloggii), a tall, deciduous tree; B. Interior Live Oak (Q. wislizenii var. frutescens), a large, evergreen shrub; C. Oracle Oak (Q. x morehus)

    A. California Black Oak (Q. kelloggii), a tall, deciduous tree; B. Interior Live Oak (Q. wislizenii var. frutescens), a large, evergreen shrub; C. Oracle Oak (Q. x morehus)

    ***

    This post about the oak species on our property here in the California foothills, is an opportunity to show Desiree, of Driftwood Ramblings, that I do sit in my garden and in fact have a very comfy spot, here under the oaks. We took an old redwood chair and ottoman and put a camping mattress, one of those flip-out ones, on top. Covered with a striped Army sheet blanket and thrift shop pillow shams, it’s great for collapsing on.

    I have lunch out here most nice days. If I come out without Maggie seeing, and when she does notice, she bangs on the screen door and causes such a fit that Tractor Man has to let her out.  She usually wanders away when left on her own outside and we’re not keeping track, but not when I have a sandwich!

    If you happen to like using flea market finds, like this old lounge shown here, and other junkola as garden art and decoration, you may like this FB page Flea Market Gardening. Check it out, won’t you?

     

    ...looking up

    …looking up.

    ***

    More foothill oaks…

    Blue Oaks

    Blue Oaks, or Quercus douglasii, are endemic to California, only found here in our state and can commonly be found in the lower elevations of the Madera County foothills about 2000 feet, but can appear as high as 4000 feet in some areas of California. The bluish color is caused by a waxy coating on its leaves and you can easily see the blue among the yellow-green of the Interior oaks along Hwy 49 through Ahwahnee. A deciduous tree, the Blue oak was highly valued by local native tribes for their nutritious acorns.

    Blue Oak, Quercus douglasii, are found along Hwy 49 and do have a blue cast

    Blue Oak, Quercus douglasii, are found along Hwy 49 and do have a blue cast

    The Blue Oak is very hardy with tough, thick bark that allows it to withstand drought and prolonged temperatures over 100°. They don’t like to be shaded, so won’t be found as understory trees like the Oracle oak.

     

    Valley Oaks

    Valley Oak, Quercus lobata, are the wide majestic oaks, you see in the lower elevations before reaching the valley

    Valley Oak, Quercus lobata, are the wide majestic oaks, you see in the lower elevations before reaching the valley

    Valley Oaks, Quercus lobata, AKA White Oak, Swamp Oak, Roble Oak and California White Oak are also deciduous and is the fastest growing of our California oaks, growing up to 20 feet a year, with plenty of water, to 70 feet and as wide.  You’ll notice them growing thickly on the north sides of each foothill throughout the cattle county of eastern Madera County. Their branches dip as low as the ground as they offer shelter to wise livestock.

     

    Quercus lobata or Valley Oak leaves

    Quercus lobata or Valley Oak leaves

    Notes:

    For more on the trees here, see Trees and Shrubs in the Existing Native Plants tab.
    For what to plant under oaks and pines see this post.

    About

    Sue Langley, a passionate gardener and photographer lives and gardens with her husband and Corgi, Maggie on 7 acres just south of Yosemite, Zone 7 at 3000 feet. She also manages the Flea Market Gardening Facebook page and website.