Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The World Has Lost A Great Golfer/Complete Nutcase

In the days before golf became a pathway to fame and fortune many talented young players decided against pursuing the game professionally in order to follow more lucrative and respectable careers.  Like refuse collector.  Or pawn broker.  The great Bobby Jones remained an amateur is entire career.  Francis Ouimet won the US Open but honored his promise to his parents never to turn pro (of course this was in the days when professional golfers were not allowed in the same club house as the "gentlemen" members).  My wife's uncle was an outstanding collegiate golfer, but chose to take over the family travel agency rather than pursue a professional golf career.  (Of course most of the above mentioned men were relatively affluent. I still love Lee Trevino's quote on the eve of the final round of the Open Championship in England; when Trevino, who grew up in poverty, was asked if the pressure of the situation might get to him he smiled and said something to the effect of, "This isn't pressure.  Pressure is when you're playing for 20 dollars a hole and you only have 2 dollars in your pocket.")

Another guy who gave up a potentially lucrative - and certainly historic - golf career in favor of going into the "family business" was none other than the dear little leader himself, Kim Jong-Il.  (Stay with me here.)

It seems that in about 1994 the Kimster played an 18 hole round of golf in 38 strokes under par.  If par was the standard 72 strokes, that means he fired a 34.  By way of comparison, the record round for a PGA tour - comprising the best players the world has ever seen - round is either 58 or 59 - I'm too lazy to look it up.  Kim's round included not one, not two, not three, but 11 holes in one.  Now, before you get all skeptical on me you should know this:  Kim's historic round of golf was verified by both the official North Korean news agency and all seventeen bodyguards who followed him on the round.   If you can't believe 17 guys whose next meal - and life - depends on the answer they give, who can you believe?

Now you might ask: how many years did the dear leader need to practice in order to reach this pinnacle, this surpassing level of performance?  Zero.  Apparently, this was his first round of golf ever.  I know, it very nearly defies belief!  Imagine what he could have done with a little practice.  It's not unrealistic to think that a perfect 18 might have been within the reach of a player so prodigiously - almost supernaturally - talented.  Heck, he might have even found a way to complete 18 holes in fewer than 18 strokes (perhaps splitting the ball with his driver and sinking each half in two different holes).  If anyone could have done it, it would be L'il Kim.

By the time Kim humbled that North Korean course, professional golf had become pathway to millions of dollars.  So one can only admire all the more the complete selflessness Kim displayed when, just like Alice's uncle, he decided to forgo a pro golf career and take over the family business at a critical time.

Unfortunately for the people of North Korea, the Kim family business was starving millions of people to death, and imprisoning, torturing and executing most of those who survived.

We have seen a lot of sadistic dictators.  We have seen more than a few messianic dictators.  But rarely has there been a dictator as batpoo/port-a-john rat crazy as Kim.  That's because the only way someone that batpoo crazy gets to be a dictator is if his much more intelligent, enormously sadistic, completely messianic, and (very) slightly less batpoo crazy father secures the job for him.  (And if he's willing to turn his back on a golf career.)

Starving people on that scale takes some real effort.  All the more so in a land that stands as pretty much the last place on earth where acorns comprise a significant portion of the diet, and which still has "has" in the case of South Korea, "had" in the case of North Korea) an acorns-as-food industry.  Starving people on that scale requires completely divorcing people from a longstanding and proven source of nutrition, making them utterly dependent upon grain crops, and then failing to provide the infrastructure to a) distribute those grain crops to the people and b) protect grain stores from floods and other unusual - but thoroughly predictable - disasters.  It need not be said that famines are of course good for the dictatorship business (see also Mao Pse-tung and Joseph Stalin) in terms of consolidating power.

Control the food and you control the populace.  Food = power.

We have the opposite situation in the US.  The government isn't (intentionally) starving people. Instead it is paying grain farmers to grow more corn than the populace can possibly eat, and then subsidizing the food industry's efforts to cram more of that cheap corn down our willing maws.  Here's a tip kids:  You want job security in the future, become a physician specializing in diabetes.

The point I'm laboring to make here is that reliance on annual grain crops as our stable food source a) frees up more of our time for other leisure pursuits - like warfare - and b) allows the power hungry to alternatively starve or stuff us - whichever is most effective in achieving their goals and consolidating their power.

People who grow/gather their own food cannot be controlled as easily.  Which would free up more time for the Kim Jung-il's, Joseph Stalins, Mao Tse-tung's and ConAgra's (yes I did just group them together) of the world for other leisure pursuits.

Like golf.

Kim's demise makes me wish I believed in a just and proportionate afterlife.

Leading the league...

... in half finished blog posts!

Uniquely/paradoxically/idiotically nearly all of my blog posts - the modern/"paperless" way to publish your thoughts - start out as chicken-scratched ink on paper in a work/sales notebook or scrap of random paper.

I have compiled a depressing/impressive stack of half finished posts.  In fact I have achieved a new first:  I have not one but two half finished posts about how many half finished posts I have written!

If the rode to hell is paved with half finished blog posts I'm a hydrofoil racing down the river Styx. 

Here is a partial list of the unfinished posts you can (or perhaps not) expect in early 2012:
Oak gall ink
California white oak acorns = dang tasty
The better balanoculture blog over the pond
Parking lots - too bad parked cars interfere with the perfect acorn collecting surface
Foresters & lawyers - My commencement speech post continued
Pistachios - words of wisdom and a blueprint for oaks from J. Russell Smith
Native plants and roller rinks
Toby Alone sequel - one more book and I'll finally crack the subtle allegory
Kim Jung-il and acorns
Your typical neighborhood hot dog/acorn bread stand on the bay
Rehashing old Northern Nut Growers Association notes and speeches
On the trail with John Muir

Yes, I just used a blog post to create a to do list.  Sorry about that.  But hopefully it will spur me to complete those half finished scribbles.  Now if I can just find the notebooks I started them in...

Anyway, thanks for reading.  We now have thirteen followers!  Thirteen people can change the world.  Seems like a rag-tag group of thirteen people changed the world pretty dramatically once before.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Ghost Oaks

My work often has me hitting the road in my truck with the stars still overhead, in time to reach the hills around Paso Robles, CA at dawn - which means pea soup coastal fog.

It's my favorite part of my job, and my favorite time of the day, as ancient California white oaks (Quercus lobata) and California live oaks (Q. agrifolia) emerge from the mist.  I like to think of them as ghost oaks from a time when the native people of this area relied on them for sustenance.

Unlike usual, I actually stopped the truck to take these shots.  It's safety first here at Oak Watch!

(Click to enlarge)

There is a steel post next to the trunk of this tree which you can't see from this distance.  In the morning mist I like to think of it as a decorated staff that indigenous California families would lean against their favorite acorn producing trees to claim their bounty for the coming harvest.  I know I would have claimed this tree for my brood.  In fact the post supports an owl box to help control rodents in the mist-shrouded vineyard just out of sight.

(Click to enlarge and frame ;-)

I am particularly happy with the (purely accidental) reflection on the hood of the truck.

Ansel Adams eat your heart out.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Mississippi Mechanic of High Performance Oaks

About ten years ago (or was it more than that?) Alanis Morissette had a top-selling CD which included the smash hit song “Isn’t It Ironic?”  Ironically, none of the events described by Ms. Morissette (rain on your wedding day, a free ride when you already paid, etc.) were, in fact, ironic.  Unfortunate, yes.  Ironic, no.

It is, however, ironic that many of my heroes, or at least people whose attributes I greatly admire, are titans in an activity in which I have zero interest and couldn’t be paid to actually watch:  motor sports.

I have written before in Oak Watch about Don “Big Daddy” Garlits.  I have immediate admiration for a guy who can refer to himself – and get others to refer to him – as Big Daddy with a straight face.  Beyond that, Big Daddy was a drag racing pioneer.  It was he who changed the design of top fuel dragsters so that the driver no longer straddled the engine but instead sat directly in front of it.  Garlits had this epiphany after an exploding engine nearly removed his legs; apparently he decided he would rather have the engine explode behind his head.  This design innovation was based on the theory that while it is possible (and maybe even preferable) to reach 250mph in a quarter mile without a brain, it is physically impossible to do so without feet.

Garlits was the first to break the 170, 180, 200, 240, 250, 260, and 270 miles per hour barriers.  If we assume that the pre-Garlits best was 169mph, that means that over the course of his career Garlits increased the top speed over a quarter mile by an astonishing 60%.

Another motorhead hero of mine is Burt Munro, the kiwi motorcyclist depicted in the movie World’s Fastest Indian.  Munro took a 1920 Indian motorcycle – a bike with an original top speed of 55mph – and modified it continuously for 40 years.  During the 1960’s he set world speed records for engines under 1000cc’s at the Bonneville Salt Flats, and once topped 200mph in an unofficial run.  He cast many of the parts – minor pieces like pistons, barrels, fly wheels – himself using makeshift molds and tools.

In taking his Indian from a top speed of 55 to 200mph Munro improved its performance by a jaw-dropping 264%.

What I love about both of these guys is their painstaking attention to detail, and their single-minded determination to push the absolute limits of performance.  To never, ever be satisfied.

What does this have to do with oak trees?  Everything.  Absolutely everything.

We need oaks to once again feed the world, to once again become the Staff of Life they were for thousands upon thousands of years, before we declared war on the soil, and before we sold our collective soul for the false food security of grain crops.  In order for oaks to feed the world, we must first convince the world that oaks are fast growing trees capable of astounding productivity, and we must also use the genetic diversity/elasticity of the genus Quercus combined with modern growing practices, to make them even faster and more productive.

The oaks that surround us are the 1920 Indian motorcycles.  They just need the arboreal equivalents of Don Garlits and Burt Munro to bring out their potential, to take them to the Bonneville Salt Flats of tree growth and show the world what they can do.

Luckily I know of one such man.

Let me ask you this:  Say you plant an 18 inch tall oak seedling.  How much would you expect it to grow the first year… One foot?  Eighteen inches?  Take a look at this:

 (Click to enlarge)

This is a hybrid overcup x white oak (Q. lyrata x Q. alba).  It was planted in March of 2011 as an 18 inch seedling.  This photograph was taken on September 1, 2011 – six months later - at which point the tree was 8 feet 1 inch tall.  That's 97 inches tall. 

For those of you keeping score at home that’s 79 inches of growth in one growing season – in the first growing season.  From a reasonable expectation of 18 inches of first year growth that’s a 340% improvement.  You couldn’t pay me to watch a car race.  But I’d pay money to sit (or should it be “set?”) in a Mississippi field and watch this tree grow.  More exciting, and a much lower chance of being struck by flaming debris.

How do you make a race car go faster?  You remove the things that limit its speed – feed it more fuel and more air.  How do you make an oak tree grow faster (which is to say, how do you make an oak tree reach its inherent growth potential)?  You remove the things that limit its growth.

You identify naturally occurring hybrids, especially in the white oak group.  (That’s not as hard as it sounds; in fact I defy you to find an individual tree in the white oak group – or any oak – that isn’t, to some degree, a “hybrid.”  But more than that you need to be able to identify individual mama trees with the potential for fast growth, and have a good sense of where papa pollen is coming from.)

You sow the acorn in root pruning pots to give it a killer root system.  You plant with an actual shovel, not using the planting bar/stomp method, so the roots can fan out.  You fertilize to overcome any deficiencies in our (usually) worn out soils.  You prune laterals as they develop, to channel all that growth energy skyward.  You aggressively control weeds, recreating the role that fire played in creating the momentary competitive advantage from which the mature oaks we see day benefited in their infancy.

And you use the best tree tubes, to keep all your painstaking work from simply providing deer browse, to reduce wind and moisture stress, and to provide protection from weed control operations.  Under the heading of shameless self promotion (but self promotion in the furtherance of a noble cause!) the best tree tubes are for sale here.

The Burt Munro of oaks is alive and well, and living in Mississippi.  His name is Dudley Phelps.  And you can buy his hybrid oaks –and my tree tubes – here.  Yes, Mossy Oak.  Which means – as I have said so often before – that there are a whole lot of acorn-fed deer out there eating better and healthier than all of us.

At least now I can have a hero with dirt on his hands instead of motor oil.

This just in:  Lest you think that rapid height growth of the overcup x white oak shown above comes only at the expense of diameter/caliper growth, take a look at this:

 (Click to enlarge)

The base of a Totten hybrid oak (overcup x swamp chestnut), planted about April 1, 2011.  Then again this tree is just a paltry 7 feet tall (having grown "just" 66 inches in its first growing season).  The gray stake in the background is a 1" diameter pvc conduit pipe.

Anyone still think oak are slow growing?  I didn’t think so.  And trust me, there will come a day when 79 inches of growth for an oak seedling in the first growing season will be disappointing.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Oaks Wrought of Iron

OK, so these oak leaves and acorns are probably cast - not wrought - in iron.  But, 1) this is still one cool fence, and 2) I just like saying wrought.

Iron fence surrounding the fairground parking lot in Paso Robles - Oak Tree Pass - California.

Appropriate, yes.  Cool, very.  But what was laying in the parking lot was even cooler.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Oaks suspiciously absent from list of slow growers

I have quoted J. Russell Smith's rant on poets and oaks ad infinitum, the gist of which is that oaks should sue poets for libel since poets universally use the oak as a metaphor for all things slow but solid (essentially casting oaks in the role of the tortoise in an arboreal version of the Tortoise and the Hare).

I just came across this.

The Morton Arboretum in Chicago planted a wide variety of trees, all of which were 10 feet tall at planting time (when of course what they should have been doing - if they wanted those trees to live a long, healthy life - is planting trees a lot closer to 10 inches tall, but that's another post for another day).  10 years later they measured the trees. 

Trees that were more than 25 feet tall 10 years after planting were classified as fast growing.  These included American elm and silver maple.  "Moderately fast growing trees measured 18 to 25 feet tall. These included Green Ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica), Kentucky Coffeetree (Gymnocladus dioica), Thornless Honeylocust (Gleditsia triacanthos var. inermis) , Linden (Tilia platyphyllos, T. cordata, T. xeuchlora 'Redmond', and T. tomentosa), English Oak (Quercus robur), Pin Oak (Quercus palustris), Sawtooth Oak (Quercus acutissima), Shingle Oak (Quercus imbricaria), Red Maple (Acer rubrum), Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum), and Tuliptree (Liriodendron tulipifera)."

There's a whole lot of Quercus in that list, right alongside green ash and honeylocust... although how a major arboretum managed to somehow limit the growth of sawtooth oak and pin oak to just two feet per year causes me to serious question their horticultural acumen.  Did they plant them in the parking lot??

"Slower growing trees were less than 18 feet tall after 10 years. These included European Ash (Fraxinus excelsior), Ohio Buckeye (Aesculus glabra), Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba), Common Hackberry (Celtis occidentalis), European Hornbeam (Carpinus betulus), Ironwood (Ostrya virginiana), Norway Maple (Acer platanoides), Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua), and Yellowwood (Cladrastis kentukea). "

So the list of slow growers is pretty much a Quercus-free zone.

OK, I just figured out how these people were able to limit oaks to 2ft of growth per year.  People who manage less than 1ft of growth per year on Norway maple shouldn't even be allowed to grow oaks!  Good grief, in Minnesota I had Norway maple volunteers in my flower garden reaching head height in one summer from seed if I let them (trust me, I didn't let them).

But my point - besides taking gratuitous pot shots at a highly respected horticultural institution - stands:  Ask any 20 people on the street which trees they would expect to see in a list of slow growers and every last one of them would say oaks.

Damn poets.

Oak Watch - Readers Smarter Than Blogger

Great comment to my previous post... Thank you!

Have you read Samuel Thayer's "Nature's Garden"? It has 50 pages on acorns. It also offers the best explanation that I have seen as to why red oak acorns are initially more bitter that white oak acorns. I won't go into the whole thing here, but he goes into great detail about how white oaks don't necessarily have less tannins, they are just locked up in hydrophobic pockets.

Also, high levels of tannins aren't always a bad thing. If you are storing acorns by drying them, they will keep longer if they have higher levels.

I haven't read Nature's Garden, but I sure will now!  It promises to answer many of the questions I have posed about acorn bitterness and tannin levels, and no doubt explains why some acorns considered to be high in tannins were favored by indigenous people.

Thanks for the comment, thanks for the suggestion, and most of all thanks for reading!!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

California black oak acorns: I was right

Recently I tasted some raw California black oak (Q. kelloggii) acorns - acorns that had dropped from some of the same trees from which John Muir might have gathered up a handful for an afternoon snack.  They had a strong flavor of tannin, but the aftertaste on the tongue was very short lived.  This led me to speculate that the tannins in California black oak acorns are highly soluble in water and could be quickly and easily leached away.

I finally got around to testing my theory.  Turns out - and let me tell you I'm as shocked as you and find myself on completely unfamiliar ground here - I was right.

I shelled a handful of them, and coarsely chopped the nut meats.  I dropped them into a small pot of boiling water, and boiled them for about 3-5 minutes, at which point I drained them and tasted a few.  The bitter tannin flavor was still there, but already greatly diminished.  After repeating the process the bitterness was almost completely gone.  After a grand total of 6 to 10 minutes of boiling I had acorns - from the supposedly bitter red/black oak group - that are sweeter than many of the supposedly sweet acorns of the white oak group I have tried.  Here I'm thinking particularly of English/common oak, (Q. robur).

In "Use of Acorns for Food in California: Past, Present and Future," David Bainbridge gives the nutrient content of California black oak acorns as:

Water - 9.0%
Protein - 4.56%
Fat - 17.97%
Carbs - 55.48%

That will keep you going when hiking/mapping/preserving the splendor of the Sierra!

Monday, October 24, 2011

California live oak acorns: Sweet, aerodynamic

(Click to enlarge)

The acorn of the California live oak (Q. agrifolia) wins the award for best performance in a wind tunnel.  The thing is a beautiful, streamlined dart.

That also means it has a very high ratio of shell to nut meat, which in turn means you have to shell a lot of live oak acorns per pound of finished food.  And yet the Chumash Indians did shell them, by the ton.  Why did they bother?  Here are two good reasons:

1.  The California live oak acorns I have tried (and yes, I finally have been able to beat the squirrels, deer, turkeys, and bears to some of them) are some of the sweetest acorns I have tasted.  They would need little to no leaching, a time savings that would more than offset the added time needed for shelling.

2.  According to Dr. David Bainbridge's awesome paper, "Use of Acorns for Food in California: Past, Present, Future," the nutrient composition of Qagrifolia acorns looks like this:

Water - 9%
Protein - 6.26%
Fat - 16.75% (more than double that of most other California oaks, save California black oak and interior live oak)
Carbohydrate - 54.57%

Of course those silly, uneducated Indians thought that fat is actually a necessary nutrient.  We, of course know better.  We know that fat is evil, and our cravings for fat are merely an evolutionary mistake best sated by consuming kajillions of calories of low-fat foods.  That's why we are so thin with low levels of type II diabetes and they were so... hey, wait a minute!  Could it be that they knew something the people whose fortunes depend on cramming more and more corn-based products down our throats don't want us to know?  Can't be. 

Pass the chips.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Oak Wilt Saga Continues: Prologue

In the spring of 1989 I was chosen by my classmates to give the commencement address for the University of Minnesota College of Natural Resources.  I wasn’t sure what I had ever done to them to make them hang that millstone around my neck, but I vowed to repay their cruelty with the longest, most boring graduation speech in school history.  Mission accomplished.

It’s true what they say:  You never remember what your graduation speakers say.  Even if – perhaps especially if – that speaker is you.

I do remember two things I said.  The first is that I quoted Aretha Franklin, something not generally done during a forestry school commencement speech.  Thank you.

The other is that I told a story – a parable really – that went something like this.

A lawyer, a doctor and a forester attend a dinner party hosted by a mutual friend.  Let’s call him Ed.  Over cocktails Ed turns to the lawyer and says, “My company is getting sued by a competitor for…” but before he can even finish his sentence the lawyer holds up his hand to halt him, saying, “Sorry, Ed, but I never discuss legal matters in a social setting.  If you’d like, please set up an appointment with my secretary and I’d be happy to discuss your case at length.”  Ed, ever the genial host, takes no offense and makes a mental note to set up an appointment with the lawyer.

Later, over hor d’oeuvres, Ed says to the doctor, “Say Doc, I have been having this shooting pain in my lower back and I was wondering if…” but once again he is amicably but firmly cut off in mid-sentence by the physician who said, “Sorry Ed, I never discuss legal matters in a social setting.  If you’d like, please set up an appointment with my office and we can discuss your symptoms in detail.”  So once again Ed makes a mental note to call the doctor’s office the following week to make an appointment.

Just as the main course – a sizzling steak with a piping hot baked potato and perfectly steamed broccoli – hits the table, Ed mentions in passing, “You know, I have an oak tree in the back yard that looks sick and…”  For the third time that evening he doesn’t finish his sentence.  Only this time he is not interrupted.  This time the forester has already put down his napkin, stood up and is heading for the back door to examine the ailing tree.  Reluctantly, Ed takes a longing look at his perfectly prepared steak and follows the forester out the door.

Over the course of the next 45 minutes Ed receives an impromptu tree care seminar, on everything from proper planting and watering, to insect and fungal pests of oaks.  Ladders, pruning saws, and ropes are involved.  By the time they return to the table the forester is dripping in sweat, the dinner is stone cold, and Ed has received about $3000 worth of free advice and services.

My point – and I did have one – was not that foresters shouldn’t be generous in sharing their knowledge and expertise.  It was simply that we should place a higher value on that expertise.  Until foresters start placing a higher value on their own specialized knowledge, how can they expect others to do so?  How can they expect to earn the r-e-s-p-e-c-t (yes, this is where Aretha came in, and no, I did not sing it) deserving of a profession every bit as noble and important as medicine or law?

I think that part of the reason foresters don’t value their expertise more highly is that they are more acutely aware of – and more deeply troubled by – the limits of that knowledge.  Medicine can go from leeching and releasing bad humours to radiation therapy in less than 150 years and still maintain the fiction that they have all the answers, that they have reached the acme of health care.  Lawyers can argue contradictory precedents at $400 per hour, and as long as people pay them to sue others will hire them to defend.

Yes, this is all apropos something, a bigger story.  And yes, it does have to do with oak wilt.  And I will (finally) get to the point... in the next post!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Bainbridge for Nobel Prize

I have long thought that Dr. David Bainbridge should be given a Nobel Prize for his work in  ecological restoration, sustainability and, of course (and most importantly) promoting acorns as a food crop for the future.  In fact it was he who coined the term "balanoculture" to label the acorn eating cultures of the world.
I have been reading his 1986 paper, "Use of Acorns for Food in California: Past, Present, and Future," presented at the Symposium on Multiple-use of California's Hardwoods.

It's pretty much a sentence-by-sentence process, since it is so information dense; each new sentence sends my poor little brain spinning in twelve different directions.  I'll be dissecting the paper in a series of upcoming posts.

Here are a few snippets:

"Acorns have been used as food by Homo sapiens for thousands of years virtually everywhere oaks are found.  The worldwide destruction of the acorn resource by mismanagement may well have led to the development of annual plant based agriculture and to civilization as we know it today (Bohrer, 1972; Bainbridge, 1985b)"

The two papers referenced are listed as:

Bohrer, V.L. On the Relation of Harvest Methods to Early Agriculture in the Near East. Economic Botany, 16:145-155; 1972

Bainbridge, D.A. The Rise of Agriculture: A New Perspective. Ambio.14(3):148-151

I going to try to get my mitts on these two papers, because the idea fascinates me.  I often fall into the trap of viewing our acorn-eating past as Utopia - or more accurately and more specifically as an Eden, and as punishment for our Fall From Grace we were doomed to live by the sweat of our toil and by working the soil year after year after year, despite the fact that everything we need to eat grows on trees.

But here we're being told by a source I respect more than almost any other that in was probably the other way around:  we trashed our acorn resource and were forced to grow annual cereal crops to survive.

This might be a distinction without a difference:  One way or another we stopped relying on acorns and started beating the snot out of the ground to grow grains.  In the end it doesn't really matter how or why it happened, only that it did happen, and only that we knock it off and get back to perennial woody crops like acorns.

It would surprise me not at all to know that mankind wrecked the acorn resource.  I have always been searching for the great Why? of acorns - why did we stop eating acorns which are gathered with minimal work, which provide more nutriment than grains, and which can be stored for years?  My working theories have focused on control - on how reliance on annual grains allows for divisions and stratifications within society, and allow a small number of people to control the actions of large numbers of underlings by tying them to an annual cycle of toil.

I always love learning more about this - even if it is only to learn for the 7 millionth time how short-sighted man is.

On to a couple more excerpts:

"In Spain and Italy acorns provided 20 percent of the diet of many people just before the turn of the Century (Memmo, 1894)."

Think about that!  Not much more than a century ago there were places in Europe where acorns provided 20 percent of the human diet.  I find this fact astonishing - the great grandparents of many Americans subsisted largely on acorns, and yet it is completely forgotten as a food source.  I also find this fact encouraging - it really shouldn't take much to reinfuse acorns back into the "modern" diet.

"Acorns were perhaps nowhere more important than in California. For many of the native Californians acorns made up half of the diet (Heizer and Elsasser, 1980) and the annual harvest probably exceeded the current Califonia sweet corn harvest of 60,000 tons."

I find draw great strength and inspiration from the thought that I am now sitting and typing on ground once inhabited by people whose diet was 1/2 oak!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

"... one of the puzzles of history..."

It's been too long since I have done a reading from the Holy Scriptures, Tree Crops, A Permanent Agriculture by J. Russell Smith.

From the chapter entitled "The Oak as a Forage Crop" (and quoting at a length that I'm sure exceeds "fair use," a consideration which I - and I'm sure the brilliant J Russell would agree - is superseded by the benefit of committing these words to pixels and spreading them across the ether):

The genus of oak trees hold possibility, one might almost say promise, of being one of the greatest of all food and forage producers in the lands of the frost.  Why has it not already become a great crop?  that is one of the puzzles of history, in view of its remarkable qualities...

... As the pioneer farmers of Pennsylvania pushed aside the flowing stream of oil from their springs so that animals might drink water, so the modern world has pushed aside this good food plant, the oak tree.

There is a strip of hills from New England to Minnesota, from New England to Alabama, from Alabama to Ohio, from Ohio to Missouri, and from Missouri down to Texas.  On these hills men have been making their living by growing wheat, corn, clover and grass.  Yet I am confident that in every county there are oak trees of such productivity that if made into orchards they would in any decade yield more food for beast and possibly man than has been obtained on the average in any county in any similar period on the hill country of this wide region.

Word first written in 1929.
I often focus on acorns as a human food - and rightly so given the fact that humankind has eaten more acorns than all grain crops combined. 
However, given the fact that most soil-killing and fossil fuel-consuming grain crops are grown to feed livestock (whether the animals' digestive systems evolved to eat grains or not), the idea of using acorns as a forage crop takes on new poignancy. 

Monday, October 10, 2011

Horizontal Giant Still Going Strong

My new favorite tree in the whole world:  Coast live oak (Quercus agrifolia), San Luis Obispo Cty, California:
(Click to enlarge)

Yes, it is still alive:

(Click to enlarge)

This dude tipped over a long time ago and not only tenaciously clings to life, but continues to thrive - geotropism be damned.

Foresters generally measure d.b.h. - diameter at breast height.  They don't normally need to do this while in the prone position.

I'd give a week's pay for an increment boring of this tree.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

I'm glad that someone in my family can write

A little light reading for you... coming soon to a bookstore near you...
Based on...

Well done, hermano.

It stinks being the 7th smartest sibling in a family with 6 kids.

Fool Proof Test of Acorn Ripeness

Today on my lunchtime hike through the coast live oak scrub in the hills behind my home I brilliantly developed a 100% accurate test to determine the moment coast live oak acorns are ripe.
Here's how you know they are ripe:  They are gone.

I have been watching green acorns for weeks, watching for the precise moment when they get ripe enough to pick to eat and/or plant.  I have discovered that there are precisely three types of coast live oak acorns:  Green ones, bug eaten ones, and empty acorn caps.

I might have to just stand next to a tree for a few days and fight off the jays and squirrels.  I don't mind; the view of Morro Bay from there is awesome.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

New favorite acorn

(Click to enlarge)

This photo does a poor job of showing the striations on the caps, but these are just plain beautiful acorns.  California black oak (Quercus kelloggii). 

As I said in the previous post, one of the visitors centers in Sequoia National Park has a small exhibit noting the importance of acorns in the diet of the indigenous people of the area.  That exhibit contained a gorgeous woven basket I'm not kicking myself for not photographing.  The basket had a repeating brown zig zag pattern.  The interpretive text said that the zig zag pattern represented the outline of the surrounding Sierra foothills.  That could well be true, but looking at these acorn caps one could easily imagine an alternative explanation for the pattern.  The basket itself is essentially an upside down black oak acorn cap.

(Click to enlarge)

Eastern foresters could make about 7 guesses as to the identity of this leaf - and all would be wrong.  More about the underlying text in the photograph later.

When hiking in Kings Canyon we passed a California black oak that must have been nearly 4ft in diameter - no where near the size of the state champ which was more than 7ft dhb as of the 1985 writing of Oaks of North America, but still pretty impressive given the fact that the elevation was well above that which black oak apparently prefers. 

It is supposed to be relatively intolerant of shade, but it seemed to me that its preferred method of regeneration is to germinate near the base of pine and fir trees - although this is probably a function of the fact that jays and squirrels are more likely to cache acorns near trees as a marker.

So how do the acorns taste, you ask?  I'll let you know as soon as I regain feeling in my tongue.  Eye wateringly astringent would be a good description.  However.  I noticed a couple of things about the tannic bitterness of these acorns as compared to the eastern red/black oak acorns I have eaten.  They are very moist, and the oil content seems higher.  I'll have to see if there's any data to back that up.  Also, the bitterness subsides very quickly.  Couple of liters of Mountain Dew and it's gone entirely!  Seriously, they don't coat your mouth with bitterness like other black - and many white - oak acorns do.

My guess is that the tannins in these acorns are highly water soluble and easy/fast to leech out.  If that's true - and I'm sure it is - it's easy to see how indigenous people (and intelligent European interlopers) came to view California black oak acorns, among other species - as the true staff of life.

Monday, September 19, 2011

They Might Be Giants... But they don't fill your stomach*

We spent the weekend camping and hiking among the giant sequoias of Sequoia and King’s Canyon National Parks.

Show offs.

Oaks could grow that big if they weren’t so busy devoting a huge chunk of their growth energy into other things… like feeding the entire forest and – in the past and in the future – entire human populations.  With sequoias it’s all about me, me, me.  Hey, look at me!  I’m gigantic.  Never mind that I don’t produce enough mast to feed an elderly vole with digestive complaints for a week.  Just stand there and gape in wonder at my hugeness.  Bow down before me!

I’m joking, of course.  I visited Muir Woods near San Francisco many years ago, but this was my first trip to Sequoia NP and NF – a trip which started with pitching a tent in the pitch black darkness of a state forest Friday night, and peaking out the tent after the moon rose to see the ghostly stumps of 15 foot diameter redwoods felled a century ago.

You go there, you know what you’re going to see, you walk the well marked, well paved paths (alongside, it seemed, half the population of Germany) and you still end up standing there in bewildered awe looking up at these giant trees.  In mean, they are really, really big.  You know how big you think they are?  They are bigger than that.  Jeepers and gosh almighty big.

In the 1800’s a cross section of a tree from what is now Grant Grove was sent east to amaze and delight the populace.  It had to be cut into sections for transport.  Once reassembled out east no one believed that the pieces could possibly have come from a single tree, and it was called the “California Hoax.”

One thing I was pleased to see was the emphasis in the interpretive material – signs and brochures – of the fire scars most of these giants brandish, especially the massive General Grant tree.  I hope that these repeated references to the role of fire cause people – at least a few people and at least in some small way – to view these arboreal giants as part of a dynamic, ever-changing environment – an environment that is at once benevolent and violent.  It also positively addresses a major pet peeve I have:  When wildfires are covered in the news they are usually said to have “destroyed” a certain number of acres.  Destroyed?  In natural terms fires take life, but they also give it.  Fire is both destructive and regenerative, and that usually gets overlooked in the media… until someone in the media realizes, “Hey, there are wildflowers and trees growing again in Yellowstone,” and files a report expressing their wonder and surprise at Nature’s resilience.  You mean fire didn’t leave Yellowstone a scorched and blackened dead zone for all eternity?  You don’t say.

Even though I loved every minute spent gawking at the sequoias, it is probably very safe to say – and not surprising to regular readers - that I was the only guy in the parks this weekend more interested in the oaks than the redwoods.

I saw and identified (I think) my first California black and canyon live oaks (more on those in upcoming posts).  And came up with more questions/thoughts about possible hybrids thereof.

And in one of the visitors centers there was a small display (which I should have photographed but didn’t) about the heavy reliance of indigenous people in the area on acorns as a food source, complete with a photograph of a woman grinding acorns into flour and an absolutely gorgeous woven basket used in gathering and hauling acorns.

It struck me:  Here we are, Lilliputian in the land of massive trees, but it was the rugged, often scrubby oaks of the area the provided sustenance to wildlife and humans alike for thousands of years.  Spectacularly enormous trees are great, but they don’t put dinner on the table.  That requires a tree capable of drawing nutrients from the granite and selflessly (not really, since it’s really all about successful reproduction from the point of view of the oaks) converting those nutrients to convenient, tasty little bundles o’ energy.

* Ha!  I wrote the headline after the post for once, so it actually has something to do with the drivel that follows!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Oak gall du jour

Oak gall from a California live oak (Q. agrifolia) in the hills above my house.

I'm going to try my hand at making oak gall ink soon.
This site has some interesting factoids, and some advice that might foil my attempts: It says be sure to use galls that the wasps have not yet left (as evidenced by the exit holes) because the tannin content is higher.  I'll still give it a try.

Oak gall ink was the favored ink of Leonardo and Bach.  Unfornately, "corrosive to cellulose" is probably not a great property for ink to have.  At least not if you are the paper.

High speed oak

Valley oak (Q. lobata).

Hey, at 60 miles per hour that photo isn't too bad! 

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Coincidence? I think not.

The great observation on the Las Pilitas Nursery web site that in many cases (so-called) hybrids of blue oak and California white oak (a.k.a. valley oak) are more plentiful than pure examples of either "species" had me curious, so I looked up the ranges of both "species" in Oaks of North America.  Here's what I found.

Range of blue oak (Quercus douglasii)

Range of California white oak (Quercus lobata)

Beside the fact that the latter map was apparently rendered with a felt tip pen on the verge of drying out, the two maps look strikingly similar to me.

Hmmm... more hybrids than pure breds, and the exact same range.  Still sure we're talking about two separate "species" here?

Post has nothing to do with title. Again.

Now why I know why newspaper headlines are written after the articles are done.  That last post was titled "Blue Oak Leaves, slightly crispy."  I meant to chide myself for leaving the leaves in a hot truck for 30 hours before photographing them, rather than pressing them as I should have.  Already leathery in texture, these blue oak leaves feel like potato chips.  But don't taste like them (I know because I tried them).

Once again my thoughts (if they can be considered such) took me in a totally different direction.  Remind me to re-read the title before I click Publish!

Blue Oak Leaves, slightly crispy

(Click to enlarge)

Random leaf samples from the blue oak pictured in the previous post (I could reach these from the road without disturbing the bovines).

While searching for more information on blue oaks and leaf photos with which to compare these, I came across more brilliance from the website of Las Pilitas Nursery.  I can't believe I never noticed this before!

Blue oaks (Quercus douglasii) hybridize with many of the other oaks in California and often you're left guessing which it is. Sometimes Blue Oaks (Quercus douglasii) and Valley Oaks (Quercus lobata) get together and you get more hybrids than 'real' trees. Sometimes Blue Oaks (Q. douglasii) and scrub oaks (Quercus berberidifolia) make a mess of little oaks that leave most of us confused and one or two newbie botanists thinking up new species names.

I would be very happy if a group of botanists by consensus combined almost all the oaks into one species, with the subspecies, forms, varieties and hybrids listed under them. THEN, if you were not sure which one you were looking at you could 'go up the tree' one step.

Amen brother (or sister), amen.  When a particular hillside has more "hybrids" than true "species," that should be a clue that our current system of taxonomy is not up to the task of accurately describing oaks.  Regular Oak Watch readers know I am a proponent of a One Species/Many Varieties approach to oak taxonomy - more of a gradient like the three-sided gradient (sand, clay, silt) used to classify soils.

Obviously, I'm not the first.  Or the smartest. Or the most eloquent.  Or... Well now I'm really depressed.  But the point is even though I'm late to the One Species party, at least I'm there. 

You might be asking:  Why does it matter?  Who cares about the taxonomy and nomenclature surrounding oaks, except for a bunch of acorn heads in their ivory towers?

It matters.  It matters because instead of viewing oaks as separate, static "species" that exist only in the realm of "nature," the One Species concepts sees oaks as ever-changing, ever-evolving possibilities - in the same way that a couple of nondescript, virtually inedible grasses ultimately became maize, the oaks we see today could - and I would argue must - become the corn of tomorrow.

Oaks served mankind as a primary staple food source for millennia.  And served mankind well.  Now corn and its cereal counterparts have allowed us to increase our numbers to the point where woody crops as they currently exist couldn't feed the world without selection and breeding.  But corn and its cereal counterparts' effect on the soil which sustains us and fossil fuel consumption have made it imperative that woody crops take their place as soon as possible.

I harp constantly on the genetic elasticity of the Quercus genus - I mean species! - to illustrate how much genetic potential exists within this one remarkable species.  It took corn about 6,000 to completely control our land and our stomachs.  Oaks could regain their rightful position as the Staff of Life in just a few decades - but only if we stop trying to separate them into different species are start viewing them as One Species within which resides the diversity that will save our soils and our souls.

Blue Oak Sunrise

(Click to enlarge)

Sunrise on CA route 166.

The one of the left is blue oak, Quercus douglasii.  I think the one on the right is coast live oak (Q. agrifolia) but to know for sure I would have had to scale a barbed wire fence into a cattle holding pen.  I wasn't worried about getting hurt or trespassing; I was worried about what I'd step in on the way to a day of sales meetings ;-)

Friday, September 2, 2011

The hybrid that isn't?

In the Southeastern USA live oak (Q. virginiana) hybridizes with three other oaks, at least according to Oaks of North America:  Overcup oak (Q. lyrata), post oak (Q. stellata) and swamp white oak (Q. bicolor). 

In one respect these hybrids are not supposed to happen.  Live oak is considered, by virtue of being evergreen and using the "modern" convention (at least it was modern as of the 1985 printing of my copy of Oaks) of grouping all evergreen oaks together, to be a Red/Black oak (Erythrobalanus).  Its three dance partners listed above, of course, are firmly placed in the White oak group (Leucobalanus).

But these are clearly artificial designations.  All of these oaks have acorns that mature in one year, so it makes sense that, at least in that regard, live oak is more of a white than a red.

Now come with me to the west coast.  Coast live oak (Q. agrifolia) is the dominant (in a bonsai sort of way) tree in my area.  Go a few miles inland and you quickly begin to find California white oak - a.k.a. valley oak (Q. lobata) mixed with coast live oak on the golden hillsides.

Both have acorns that ripen in one year.  It is, to say the least, a very romantic setting.  Morning fog, sunny afternoons, ocean views, wine country.  So of course the local hillsides resound with the pitter patter of roots of little Q. agrifolia x lobata hybrids, right?

Wrong.  I can't find any mention of such a hybrid existing.  And you'd think it wouldn't be hard to notice: An evergreen oak but with the lobed leaves of a valley oak, or a decidious oak with the bristled, cupped leaves of a coast live.  But apparently you don't, or at least no one has.

So yes, the stage is set for Q. x siemsii.  I know it's out there, I just need to find it.

Then again it might not be out there.  Instead of marrying the girl next door, coast live oak apparently goes gallivanting around the interior with California black oak (Q. kelloggii), a clear Erythrobalanus whose acorns mature in two years.  This apparently frequent union results in Q. x ganderi C.B. Wolf or Q. x chasei McMinn, Curly and Moe - depending on where you are and who you talk to.  And their parents said it would never last! 

It's got me wondering about the whole red oak / white oak division and what it means.  My guess: Not much.

Oak Abuse

(Click to enlarge - if you have the stomach for it)


Paging Dr. Shigo.  Paging the spirit of the late father of modern aboriculture Dr. Alex Shigo, you are needed in El Paso de Robles.

Before there aren't any more robles in these pasos. 

(Click to enlarge - photoshop the fence - and enlarge)

Now that's more like it.  What a beaut.  California white oak (Q. lobata).

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Rattlesnake Shuffle

The previous post reminded me of a story.  It has nothing to do with oaks, but it had me laughing to myself as I jogged yesterday though the dwarf oaks lining the (rattlesnake infested) hills above my new California home.

For me the most compelling piece of sports footage ever is when Bob Beamon set the world record in the long jump at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. No, he destroyed the old record*.  The raw statistics are astounding.  29 feet, 2 1/2 inches.  Up until that time the long jump record had been bested 13 times since 1901 (once every five years), by an average of 2 1/2 inches each time.  Beamon broke the existing record by 21 3/4 inches, and his record stood for 23 years.

But as amazing as the numbers are, it is the actual footage of the leap that is the most astounding.  And heartbreaking.  Beamon runs with the fluidity of a cheetah toward the board and launches himself into the stratosphere where he... just... floats.  This was before the hitch kick came into vogue.  Today's long jumpers pedal and imaginary bicycle across the sky.  Better for distance, but definitely less poetic.  Beamon just literally floated.  And floated.  And forgot to come down. Almost as though his body so enjoyed the feeling of floating in the air that it refused to come down.

When he finally does surrender to gravity and return to Earth, he bounds out of the pit.  He knows he nailed it.  He knows it was a great jump.  He's literally skipping while waiting for the distance to be posted.  There's a delay in posting the distance - probably because the judges know that the distance they are coming up with can't possibly be correct.  And when the distance is finally posted three things happen in rapid succession:  Beamon's eyes get huge, the crowd erupts, and Beamon collapses on the ground in a sobbing heap - a man who knows that he is not physically capable of doing what he just did.

* A fellow competitor later told Beamon that he had "destroyed" the long jump for future competitors.

That record stood until 1991.  The great Carl Lewis never broke it.  Mike Powell broke it.  By 2 inches.  Hitch kick and all.

Officially, Mike Powell's record still stands.  Unofficially, Powell's record was broken in 2003 in Tucson, AZ.  By me.  No, I didn't break his record.  I destroyed it.

As I said in the previous post I often ran in a dry wash near our Tucson home.  For company I often brought a Walkman that was so old it played cassette tapes.  Usually though I listened to the radio.  When it worked.  The Walkman was on the fritz (probably the result of being subjected to about 3 gallons of salt water every time I ran in that scorching heat) and the radio came in and out.

One day the radio had gone silent for so long I completely forgot I had it with me and that I had headphones on.  Mid afternoon, approximately 132 degrees in the shade (I'm only guessing, because this was Tucson - there is no shade).

All of a sudden I heard the tssssssstttttt of a rattlesnake's rattle and it was RIGHT NEXT TO ME.  At that moment I put both Bob Beamon and Mike Powell to shame.  I went airborne - taking the "hitch kick" technique to a whole new level.  In fact I was running at top speed while in midair.  Judges later recorded my leap at 39ft 6 3/4in.  I still think they cheated me out of five more feet.

After I landed, and after my heart started working again, and after I started breathing again (in other words, about 10 minutes after I landed) I heard... static.  In my head phones.

I hadn't heard a rattlesnake.  I had heard static, suddenly kicking in after radio silence for the previous hour.  Static.  The local Gambel quail, javelinas and cactus wrens were treated to the sight of a grown man sitting in the sand laughing at what an idiot he is.

No one has ever understood how Bob Beamon was able to crush the long jump record by 21 3/4 inches in 1968.  Yes, Mexico City is at altitude, but the altitude was the same for everyone and they didn't jump 29 feet.

But now I know.  Bob Beamon thought there was a rattlesnake next to the take off board.  He just had the grace and elegance to float through the air, rather than flail in the air like a panic stricken fool.

Then again that flailing probably bought me an extra ten feet in distance.

Anyway, it's good for my heart to be back running in rattlesnake country.  And even better for my heart (in a different way) to be in country where acorns were the staple food until not much more than a century ago.

Rattlesnake Oaks

Nothing like a brisk jog through rattlesnake country to enliven the senses and quicken the pulse.  Yesterday I went running in the hills near our new neighborhood - I would say "where the sidewalk ends," but this is Los Osos and there aren't any sidewalks.  Or street lights.  Or sewers.  But that's another story for another day.

We have been told that rattlesnakes are prevalent in that area, and that this year they have been particularly active with several dogs getting bitten.  I couldn't resist the chance to explore what from a distance promised to be oak-rich hills, but I was definitely on high alert.

As I gained altitude (makes me sound like a condor when the shuffling pace of a tortoise with asthma is closer to the mark these days) I passed through low scrubby vegetation, into some taller (head high - or more accurately eyeball high - remind me to wear protective eye wear next time) scrubby stuff, then into some assorted low trees.  Stop me if this is getting too technical for you.

But that is essentially the level of my current knowledge of this area's vegetation and cover types.

I realized, much to my great joy and sadness, that I am in for new awakening, an epiphany of the sort I haven't felt in nearly 25 years.  That was when, as a student in forestry school, I spent a few weeks at the University of Minnesota's research center at Itasca State Park in northern Minnesota.  In just that short time, after intensive field classes in forest ecology, botany and soils, I came to view the forest with a whole new set of eyes.  I never looked at the woods in the same way again.

It's probably very similar to learning to read.  At some point as a very small child you become aware that those symbols on the page mean something, and you can recognize and name a few of them, but you have know idea how the whole system works, how those symbols fit together to tell a story.  Until you learn to read.  Then you can never see the printed page with those "old eyes" ever again.

There's something a bit sad about the process a well, and I have always felt a sense of loss, that the forest - at least the eastern hardwood forest and the northern boreal forest - for me no longer holds the same mystery and wonder for me that they used to.  And it was that sense of mystery and wonder that pushed me into forestry in the first place.  Bit of an irony, that.

I have always wanted to regain that sense of ignorant wonder - of not understanding, of not being able to read the forest like a book - in some new place.

But this isn't it.  All I could think about as I ran was:  I need to learn these plants, and how they fit together, and what story they tell.  I can't wait to put a name to them, to know them.  To see them with new eyes (assuming they don't get poked out by the brush first).  And to share what I learn with you.  Because the story these plant communities has to tell sustained some of the healthiest, happiest people on Earth for millennia.

OK, that's not ALL I could think about.  Mostly, if I'm being honest, I was thinking about rattlesnakes.  I lived in Tucson for three years, and used to run in a dry wash.  I saw rattlesnakes several times, but the wash was wide, sandy and barren so I could see them from some distance away.  The path I ran yesterday cuts a shoulder wide swath with head high "mini cliffs" on both sides of you, so you could come around a bend and be eyeball to eyeball with a rattler.  Not that the thought occurred to me at all.

My ascent ended in a grove of 20 foot tall California live oaks, all filled with green unripe acorns.  I'll be keeping a close on them as they ripen.  I will be gathering, growing and eating these acorns soon (and sending them to anyone who'd like to grow some).

Assuming the rattlesnakes don't get me first.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Las Pilitas Nursery has it right!

I have quoted this before, but it continues to be by far the best thing I have read on how "new" oak "species" and "varieties" get named.  It's on the web site of Las Pilitas Nursery in Santa Margarita, CA.  The best part is now I'm only a half away from them, and definitely hope to visit the nursery soon!

Quercus dumosa is the most messed -with tree in the state. The botanists have divided up the species into all sorts of forms, most of which exist on the hillsides of both nurseries. McMinn said it in 1939 “Several varieties of this species have been described, but the characters used in attempting to distingish them fail when specimens collected throughout the range of this polymorphic species are examined.” Amen.

Double amen.  Then again, McMinn is also the dude who, in 1949 along with partners in crime Babcock and Righter, "discovered" Quercus x chasei McMinn, Babcock and Righter (Q. agrifolia x kelloggii), a hybrid that had already been "discovered" many miles to the south in 1944 and named Quercus x ganderi C.B. Wolf... so ol' McMinn didn't do much to simplify things.  Pot/kettle/black.  This is a common theme in oak taxonomy: When someone else tries to split a population into a new species or variety, they are "splitters" out to make a name for him/herself and in the process causes unwarranted complication.  When you split a population into a new species or variety yor are bringing specificity and clarity to bear on the situation, and those who disagree with your are "lumpers" who aren't smart enough to discern the subtle differences that are so clear to you.

It seems that every few years a budding botanist blunders out of his or her ivory tower and discovers that there are bushy oaks outside. Now these oaks do not key in the floras easily (keying is wandering through a flora's (a book) selection process that is supposed to be based primarily on reproductive parts of the plant). So, Mister or Ms. hot shot botanist writes a paper describing his or her “new” oak. Every time a 'new' oak is described it leads to more confusion and more 'new' oaks. These oaks below should probably all be considered various forms of Scrub Oak ( Quercus dumosa).
Quercus Xacutidens
Quercus berberidifolia- new name for Q. dumosa, given to new plants that are supposed to only occur in San Diego but are elsewhere. The landscape trade only recognizes old Q. dumosa, so in the name of 'restoration' the gene pool is being replanted with oaks from all over the state.
Quercus cornelius-mulleri (Very much like Q. john tuckeri or Q. xalvordiana. A wonderfully clean beautiful small tree. I actually figured this one out once.)
Quercus dumosa var. elegantula
Quercus durata var. gabrielensis (let's see you separate Q.durata from Q. dumosa by leaf roll, and this form has no leaf roll; maybe it's Q. dumosa?)
Quercus grandidentata (Q. engelmannii X Q. dumosa)
Quercus xhowellii (Q. dumosa X Q. garryana)
Q. john tuckeri (Q. turbinella var. californica) probably was originally a hybrid between Q. douglasii and Q. dumosa
Quercus X kinselae (Q. dumosa X Q. lobata)
Quercus X macdonaldii (Q. dumosa X Q. lobata)
Quercus X townei (Q. dumosa X Q. lobata)
Quercus dumosa var. turbinella
AND, the live oaks have dwarf forms that can also mimic Quercus dumosa.

I absolutely love this passage (especially the "budding botanist blunders..." part).  It's dripping enough sarcasm to water Las Pilitas Nursery for a week, and it sums up the situation with oak taxonomy perfectly.  Exactly the same could be said for the Southeast, and (in spades) for the Big Bend region of Texas. 

Three separate names for Q. dumosa x Q. lobata!  Sheesh, I really have my work cut out for me trying to key out the oaks of my (latest) adopted state.

Continuum, people.  Oaks falls on a continuum, not into isolated, unrelated groups.
About which much more soon...