Tuesday, June 30, 2009

In Search of the Engelmann Oak

Over the past few days, I've had the joy of finding a few Engelmann Oak trees, which only exist in a narrow band that stretches along the foothills of Southern California from Pasadena down through Orange and San Diego County into Baja California. They need to be twenty miles or more away from the ocean at an elevation of 500-4000 feet.

On Friday evening, one of my friends and I enjoyed the monthly 'Night Walk' at Descanso Gardens in La Canada, where I not only saw an Engelmann Oak but learned that Descanso is one of only two garden 'museums' (botanical gardens where every plant has been catalogued) in Southern California ~ the other being the Los Angeles Zoo. When I asked if there were any Engelmanns at Descanso, our wonderful volunteer guide turned to me and said, "How do you know about the Engelmann Oak?"

How could I not know about the Engelmann (quercus engelmannii)? As Arroyo Seco advocate Tim Brick notes, the majesty of the Engelmann can take your breath away. Their large twisted spreading limbs generally form a sparse crown. Their gray/green leaves are more elliptical or oval than the Coast Live Oaks, and their acorns more stubby. They often reside near Coast Live Oaks and Sycamores. Engelmann Oaks are probably the most imperiled of all tree oaks and are one of the most endangered natural plant communities in California.

Then, yesterday, I had the thrill of joining Roger Klemm and the Tom Sawyer campers as they planted Englemann Oak and Live Coast Oak seedlings in the Hahamongna Watershed Park, one of the Arroyo Seco's most spectacular nature parks with a terrific old-growth grove of native oak trees.

The planting ceremony was especially sweet because the young campers not only learned how to properly plant, water, and protect these young seedlings with chicken wire casing, but they also 'named' each tree they planted. The first seedling planted, a Coastal Live Oak, was named 'Michael Mayes' ~ commemorating the sudden deaths of Michael Jackson and Billy Mayes.

I'll always smile when I remember the students holding hands in a circle around their new planting, while chanting: 'Trees need people. People need trees. Welcome, Michael Mayes!'

Hopefully, in a few years, they will be able to return and point to 'their tree.'

While standing next to a magnificent adult Englemann Oak, I gazed upon a newly planted Englemann seedling and for a moment glimpsed at a future mighty oak.

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