Thursday, September 8, 2011

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.

No comments:

Post a Comment