How to Plant a Rare Oak Acorn…

In the mixed evergreen plant community of the central California coast!

Acorns have dropped from the Shreve Oak on my street! Variously reported as quite rare and slightly less rare, it definitely does not sprout without some help, making it an excellent candidate for a paleo-crop plant. The nuts are elegantly striped and fat, and look full of fat when you crack them. They mature every three years. There are zero seedlings from this tree, compared to hundreds of Coast Live Oak seedlings per year. The power company wants to cut the Shreve Oaks near us down (in addition to millions of other trees, details at the end of the post.) If you live nearby, please snag a few acorns next time you see me and plant them!

They do need a little coddling. I learned this when I tried to sprout Valley Oaks two years ago. Valley Oaks (Quercus lobata) like water, and grow best near streams or in little basins. They will also grow on a slope, and when they do, they generally mean water in the form of underground streams–very shallowly underground. This is where I inform you that botany is essential to feng shui, because you can’t find underground water without it (or at least I can’t. Kudos to the dowsers out there.) So I have such a place in mind, I collect the fattest Valley Oak acorns I can find, I pot them up and nurture them to lovely little yearlings, but when I plant them, they all fry in the heat of August. Ergo:

The first thing to do is to protect your acorn from animals–I like to pot them up in mulch and garden soil for a year and keep them on my deck. I have to put rocks around the top of the pots so the squirrels don’t dig them out when they get hungry in February. But you can also plant directly in the ground if you put rocks down–use smallish ones that the tree can grow around, but that a squirrel won’t want to move. Plant them now so they don’t dry out.

Next put up a small fence if you have deer, or a shade screen if you don’t. It should guard the south of the sapling when it comes up, and can be as simple as woven sticks on a frame of three sticks stuck in the ground. A deer-proof one should stack all around with dry sticks, and cover over with a woven lattice.

Valley Oaks and Shreve Oaks (Quercus parvula var. shrevei) will grow in some shade, but should have some sun. Shreve oaks do not need water, but should have a very thorough oak leaf mulch, as they can’t tolerate any grass on their feet whatsoever. When mature, the Shreve oak should have a canopy that reaches the ground, with nothing underneath it, approximately 30m in diameter. They are highly fire resistant. I don’t know how long they take to mature, but oaks are slow growers. Valley oaks have a more open canopy and like to associate with native water-loving shrubs. They bear at 10 years and can live to 500 years.

When European agriculture was introduced to California, native agriculture began to die, resulting in a disordered environment–severely decreased water table, extinct or nearly extinct food plants and animals, proliferating nuisance plants, increasingly dangerous fire seasons, and drier/windier/hotter weather. Each little plant does its part, and it doesn’t seem like much, but across the whole state the effects are enormous. We will have a desert on our hands soon if we are not careful. Do your part! Plant a tree!

This post is inspired by my ongoing dismay with the recent decision of PG&E to limit their liability by clearcutting underneath their power lines, subsequent to their culpability for last year’s bad fires in Santa Rosa. I’m unfamiliar with the topography and botanical succession in Santa Rosa, but this policy will increase fires in my area, by removing fire-resistant mature trees and encouraging the growth of highly flammable resinous invasive plants. Some people have supposed that wires will not catch on fire if they are not hit by a falling branch or tree–this is true, but it will not help to clear-cut to 12′ from the wires when the trees are 250′ tall. It also doesn’t explain the numerous exploding transformers, which are due to aging equipment. It also doesn’t address the underlying problem, which is the lack of devices which shut off the power at the pole nearest to the wire that is down, preventing the problem entirely whether it is due to trees, wind, or car accidents. Additionally, they are doing this clearcutting in a very steep sandstone and sand-based coastal mountain valley. Our main road to town was washed out two years ago in a rainstorm, and one lane remained closed until last month. It cost roughly $6 million dollars. Fortunately no one was hurt, but all our roads are held up on one side by trees and air. In addition to exacerbating fires, cutting down trees seems to invite landslides and silting in of rivers.

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