Iconic Oaks of Mount Laguna
Quercus kellogii, app. Black Oak
It’s impossible to think of Mount Laguna without thinking of the Black Oak, Quercus kelloggii. Along with the Jeffrey Pine, the Black Oak is one of the grand masters of our forests. Large trees can be up to 500 years old. Right now these oaks have all dropped their leaves for the winter, so you can see their impressive skeletons.
Other oaks on Mount Laguna include the evergreen interior live oak, Q. agrifolia var. oxyadenia, and possibly the California scrub oak, Q. xacutidens, Q. berberidifolia. These tend to be found at slightly lower elevations, such as along Pine Creek at about 5,000 feet.
Oaks are a critical species to support wildlife. Squirrels, deer, woodpeckers, jays, other birds and rodents all browse on acorns from the oak trees on our mountain. The trees (even the dead ones) provide nesting cavities for owls, woodpeckers, squirrels and more.
Oaks were a major food source for the local Indians. Black oak acorns were preferred by the Kumeyaay over acorns from other species. Acorns were soaked, shelled and dried. The dried nut meats were then ground into a meal which had to be leached with multiple washings of water. This removed the bitter tannins and made the meal edible. Acorn meal could be made into a soup, bread, or pudding. The Indians managed the oak woodlands by selectively burning areas under the oak trees in the cool season. This created more open woodland, removed ladder fuel, and killed acorn pests and other parasites.
In recent years, all our oaks have suffered the effects of drought, compounded by pests such as the golden oak borer beetle. A May 2016, report in the San Diego Union Tribune reported that at least 100,000 oak trees have died across the county. In the state of California as of November 2016, over 102 million trees were dead (oaks, pines, and other mountain species). The Sierra Nevadas have been the hardest hit, but Southern California has its share of dead trees. All you have to do is look around your cabin to see the results of our extended drought.
If you haven’t been on the mountain lately, don’t be surprised if one or two old oaks around the cabins have come down. Winter rain and snow saturates the ground and oaks that were dead fall. Time always brings a changing landscape, but the extent of tree die-off in California is unprecedented. No one seems to know what to do about it, and it may indeed signal a significant change in our mountain ecosystem. For now, we can appreciate what we have and care for the area around our cabins, hopefully being good custodians of the forest.