Friday, June 1, 2012

Acorns in the mail...

… turn any day into Christmas!

Garry oak acorn, pre-sprouted and ready to grow!

Thank you to regular reader David O. for generously sending some Garry/Oregon white oak (Q. garriana) acorns.  I went to the local garden center to get some potting soil in which to plant them.  Yes, DGP, I know – commercial potting soil is too heavy for optimal oak seedling growth.  We can't all get 8ft of growth from acorns in one year you know (inside joke there, but soon to be the subject of another half finished post).   

I noticed some 2 cubic foot bags of organic potting soil selling for $16.99.  For a guy whose first “green industry” (geez I hate that term) job was at a garden center in 1983 filling bags of potting soil that sold for about $2, I experienced a bit of sticker shock.  Until I looked at the ingredients.  Turns out this potting soil consists of: Earthworm castings, bat guano, Norwegian kelp meal, composted forest humus, the decomposed remains of several former Secretaries of the Interior*, and Pacific sea-going fish and crab meal.

* Except James Watt, whose remains would likely suppress growth.  Plus he’s not dead.

OK, I’m lying about one of those ingredients.  It's actually Icelandic kelp meal.  One does have to wonder a bit about the carbon footprint of what is essentially a bag of dirt.  Nonetheless if someone put that much thought into a bag a dirt, who am I to question it?  And given the exotic nature of the ingredients $16.99 seems like a steal.  I bought the bag and the acorns are now planted.  Let's see how they like my coastal fog and scalding 65 degree summer days.

In researching some background on Garry Oak I came across a couple of interesting things.

Gary Oak is a Pokeman character.  He is, of course, the grandson of Professor Oak.  Until perusing the wiki page I new nothing about Pokeman (my kids not being complete dorks).  How I wish that was still that case.

The second point marks a return at long length to my ongoing theme/theory that all oaks are simply different varieties of the same species.  I pulled out Oaks of North America by Miller and Lamb to refresh my memory on the relative ranges of Oregon white oak and California white oak (Q. lobata).  Sorry, I'm too lazy on a Friday afternoon to scan and post the ranges - you'll have to take my word for what follows.  

There is a significant overlap of their ranges.  Yet there are no listed hybrids between the two.  To me the logical explanation for this otherwise hard-to-believe lack is that the two "species" are so very similar that it would be virtually impossible to know if a given tree is a cross between the two. 

The range of Oregon white oak in particular includes "islands" of territory far removed from the rest of its range but completely within the range of California white oak.  Yes, this can mean that the range was at one time contiguous but climatic changes wiped out the tree in certain parts of its range (areas too high/low in elevation, too wet/dry, etc.) leaving remnant island populations behind.  More likely that is a bunch of hooey and those island populations are simply a variety of the California whites around them and not a separate species at all.  Most likely of all is that David Douglas, a big one for affixing his own name to a wide range of plant and animal life, realized he had already named and an oak after himself and decided to name one for a friend.
I'm developing some telltale signs of a questionable species designation:  Tiny islands of range separated from the main range by hundreds of miles.  Latin species designation named after a) self, b) friend, c) girl you're trying to impress.  The variation in physical characteristics within a "species" across its range is greater than the difference between that "species" and another "species."

In other words, all oak species designations are suspect.


This California white/valley oak (Quercus lobata) has seen better days.

(Click to enlarge - but it's not pretty)

Atascadero, CA.  I'm assuming it lost its main stem in a storm or lightening strike, but that's an interesting piece of pruning where the main leader used to be.  Part of me is glad someone made a decision not to remove the tree.  Part of me (the professional urban forester part) wonders about the wisdom of leaving a rotting trunk with two poorly connected branches standing.  Over a park-and-ride lot.  Next to the bus stop.

The tree does remind me of something, but I can't my finger on it.  Now I remember:  my hair line.

My Cool Ride Home

A couple times per week business takes me from my Los Osos, CA home on the central coast to the San Joaquin Valley.  It's 2.5 hours but a whole world away.  The intensity and variety of agriculture in the valley never fails to amaze me (just add water).  But after a day standing in dusty fields talking to growers I'm always ready to hop in the truck and head home to the cool, foggy coast. 

Here is a summary of the latter part of my trip home yesterday, as it pertains to the native oaks of the area.

Passing through Shandon, CA 44 miles from home
97 degrees F
Native oaks are California white/valley oaks (Q. lobata) and California/coast live oak (Q. agrifolia), most growing as widely spaced medium sized trees on the grassy range land hillsides, growing bigger on the banks of the (mostly dry) creeks.

Passing through Atascadero, CA 22 miles from home
91 degrees F
Both California white and California live oaks, with the whites dominant.  As I have posted before this is where the combination of degree days and available water produce some real giants (that's my baseball cap against both trunks):

(Click to enlarge)

Hwy 41 at the top of the pass between Atascadero and Morro Bay
67 degrees F
This is almost precisely where the California white oaks disappear and the live oaks become the dominant - though increasingly stunted - species

Hwy 41
61 degrees F

Morro Bay, CA
58 degrees

6:10pm (and most importantly in time for the end of soccer season pizza party!)
Los Osos, CA
54 degrees w/fog
California live oaks dominate the coastal scrub.  Bonsai California live oaks.

Less than 1 hour, 44 miles, and a temperature drop of 43 degrees - right into my comfort zone (the farther it gets away from 60 degrees in either direction the crankier I get).

I'm not exactly breaking new ground here in pondering the effects of coast and topography on climate, but for someone recently transplanted from the Arctic tundra of Minnesota it's pretty darn fascinating.