Friday, December 26, 2008

Mighty Oaks

"Mighty oaks from little acorns grow" goes the saying. This oak is indeed mighty. It is over 400 years old and resides on the campus of the California Institute of Technology. It is a very special species of quercus called engelmannii. Engelmann oaks are rare. They have a very limited range only growing along the foothills of southern California and down into Baja California. Plus, they like to grow on mesas which also make good home sites. Fortunately, CalTech is taking good care of its treasure. As you can see, the long winding limbs of this old tree have been supported by iron posts. The base of the tree is below the level of the lawn and there are stairs leading down to the bottom, but they are chained off.

When I was at Caltech this past November for another Coleman Concert, I arrived early to walk the grounds and also to have another look at this amazing tree. I admit was looking for acorns. I just thought it would be fun to try and grow one of these trees. The tree itself was bare of acorns and so was the ground. Not a single one could I find, until... crunch! Oh no! I actually stepped on one before I saw it. I picked it up and looked it over. It didn't seem to be too badly damaged. So I put it in my pocket and went into the auditorium to listen to a wonderful concert.

At home, I looked up these oaks on the Internet and found that they require planting in the ground very early because they send down a very long tap root. (Here is a guide for planting the Coast live oak which I used as a reference.) I planted the acorn in a tall pot filled with regular potting soil and promptly forgot about it. Then after the first real rains we had, I discovered that it was actually growing! I suddenly felt a huge responsibility to find a good home for this plant. I realized that my front yard was not nearly big enough to let the oak grow to its full glory and after dealing with sewer problems, I wasn't sure I wanted to take any chances with another large tree in any case, especially one that is known to like to spread its roots.

I emailed Tony Baker of Natural Landscapes and offered him the tree. He was delighted and since I wanted to talk with him anyway about transforming my yard into a native plant garden, he offered to come by to pick up the pot and also see what he could do for me. We had a nice long chat in the rain and he suggested that I get rid of my lawn and give him another call. I now have dreams of planting Oregon grape or one of its relatives, a Mexican elderberry, and of course, lots of sages. But I'm afraid there is more work that needs to be done on the house, like more plumbing and then painting, before I can get to work on the fun part. Meanwhile, my gardener, without asking me, has thrown down some rye grass seed so now my lawn is a fresh spring green again. I didn't have the heart to tell him to start ripping it out.

1 comment:

  1. I'm glad you're going native.

    I've had my own experiences with Coast live oaks and they do love to put down several times the amount of root as above ground growth. I wouldn't be surprised if root of the one in your picture was already at the bottom of the pot.

    take care