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.

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