A Tribute to the Oaks of California

– Posted in: Garden Photography, Trees and Shrubs

The Cultural Landscape Foundation has given me the opportunity to showcase the Oaks of California.

Cherry Hill Novato with tule fog n morning light

California native Oaks with tule fog in morning light

Recently I did some photography for TCLF, of the famed landscape architect Lawrence Halprin’s work at The Sea Ranch for an exhibit this is now touring the country. They asked me what I thought about the cultural landscape, and I chose to talk about oaks of California. I believe they have shaped our culture in invisible ways, thriving trees in a summer-dry climate that we are still learning to appreciate.

California native Valley Oak tree - Quercus lobata

California native Valley Oak tree – Quercus lobata in oak savanna

There is little doubt in my mind that oaks are the dominant tree in the landscapes of California. Yes, we have the worlds tallest trees, the Redwoods in the north coastal forests, the worlds largest trees in the Sequoias of the Sierra Mountains, and we have the remarkable Joshua trees in the southern deserts, but oak trees (Quercus species) grow all across state.

Oaks are native across the entire Northern Hemisphere but in California they are icons of the most habitable landscapes, especially here in the rolling Coastal Range hills where all these photos were taken, near my home in Northern California.

California Coastal Range with Oak trees (Quercus lobata) and rolling hills on Mt. Burdell State Park, Novato, California

California Coastal Range with Oak trees overlooking Novato, California

They grow all across the state where entire habitats are described by their presence: from Coastal Oak Woodland, Valley Oak Woodland, to Montane Hardwood Forest. Somewhere in our psyche and collected memory of how the West was won, winding roads among the Oaks of California are embedded in cultural memory.

Quercus kelloggii, California Black Oak trees in autumn on Pinheiro Fire Road, Rush Creek Open Space, Marin County

Quercus kelloggii, California Black Oak trees in autumn with ranch road.

I can almost see the Wells Fargo stagecoach or the Franciscan Mission Friars walking Alta California creating the earliest settlements along faint wagon roads such as this.

We have shaped the oak landscape in subtle ways as we have inhabited it. Here we see acres of wild mustard, as seen often covering vineyards in the spring, now dominating this landscape of dormant Oaks.

Yellow mustard spring wildflowers in Sonoma County California field with dormant Oak trees (Quercus lobata)

Yellow mustard spring wildflowers in Sonoma County California field with dormant Oak trees (Quercus lobata)

We are learning how to garden with the Oaks, and my favorites gardens are those that use the Oaks honoring the native landscapes – now a cultural landscape as we grow to love and appreciate it.

Wooden stairs leading to a hillside deck under Oak trees inSonoma summer-dry garden

Wooden stairs leading to a hillside deck under Oak trees in Sonoma summer-dry garden

How lucky we are to live in such a landscape.

Spring trees at sunset. California Valley Oak, Quercus lobata. Deciduous tree.

Valley Oak (Quercus lobata) trees at sunset, spring in California Coastal Range

Panorama of oak trees

California native Oak, flowering catkins, Rucsh Creek Open Space

California native Oaks, Rush Creek Open Space


Saxon Holt
Saxon Holt is the owner of PhotoBotanic.com, a garden picture resource for photographs, on-line workshops, and garden photography stories. An award winning photojournalist and Fellow of The Garden Writers Association with more than 25 garden books, he lives and gardens in Northern California. PhotoBotanic - Garden Photography online at www.photobotanic.com. https://photobotanic.com
Saxon Holt

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6 comments… add one

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Jean Marsh September 12, 2016, 8:32 am

You bless my native Californian heart today, thank you

Saxon Holt September 12, 2016, 11:43 am

Once an Oak tree lover, always an oak tree lover. – Saxon

David Perry September 12, 2016, 1:22 pm

Bless you, sir, for this thoughtful, heartfelt prayer…

Saxon Holt September 12, 2016, 1:42 pm

Thank you, my friend. You have walked among the oaks with me and I know you too share the reverence.

Dianne September 12, 2016, 11:47 pm

Thank you for a beautiful tribute to these magnificent trees. After what occurred this summer in Paso Robles, California, the most heinous corporate destruction.

Saxon Holt September 13, 2016, 10:44 am

You have some magnificent Oaks in Paso Robles. I am sorry to hear they were not given proper respect.

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