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Through the Garden Gate … “Knocking on Wood: Trees, Part 2, Oak Tree

This is the second part of a blog on trees, this time focusing on the mighty oak. In California, we have some of the 

mightiest. In fact, in our own back yard, we have a giant, the Valley Oak (Quercus lobata). You can find the remnants of vast oak woodlands and savannas all along our California central valley and in some coastal areas, scattered from Los Angeles to Redding in special sheltered habitats, Other Californian native oaks include Black Oak, Blue Oak, Canyon Live Oak, Coast Live Oak, Engleman or Mesa Oak, Live Oak, Island Oak, Oregon Oak, and Shreve's Oak. 

 The Valley Oak is the largest oak tree variety in North America. Mature trees are over 100' in height with a 150' spread and are up to 600 years old. Most large Valley Oaks are over 100 years old, and most seedlings are trampled by cattle, so few new trees are taking their place in the woodlands. As some of the mature trees become surrounded by growing cities, many are succumbing to the new microclimates, especially from too much water from lawns and other landscape watering. If you find yourself on an isolated island with a group of these old trees, such as in some of our State Parks, you will be in an almost magical place apart from the world, mostly unchanged since before the California gold rush.

In ancient times, oaks were regarded as particularly good and holy trees. They were beloved of the Druids who kept them in their sacred groves. These wonderful sentinels were thought to have healing, magical and protective qualities.  In fact, if you were struggling home from battle or running a fever, the water collecting in an oak tree was often used for healing these maladies well before modern medicine.

Oaks contain tannins, used for tanning skins and giving that trade its name. These are also an important aging flavor for wines. These tannins were also thought to provide this apparent healing magic, but it's really not magic at all – tannins in oak trees are still used to bring down fever and staunch wounds among herbalists today, being a potent astringent.

In Greek mythology, a Dryad, a nymph, or nature spirit lives in trees and takes the form of a beautiful young woman. Dryads were originally the spirits of oaks, but the name was later applied to all tree nymphs. It was believed that they lived only as long as the trees they inhabited. In Germanic mythology, they believed that the Germanic gods lived inside of the oak trees. During the Christian crusades, the trees were chopped down because of these beliefs.


-       Article, (Plant folklore):

-       Article, (Greek Mythology):

-       Article, (Quercus lobata):

-       Photo A (Large oak tree seen from the bottom looking up to the canopy.

-       Photo B (Oak leaf in red fall color):

-       Photo C (Acorns):!s


Posted on Wednesday, November 25, 2020 at 8:01 AM

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