Coast Live Oak

Coast Like Oak Trees on Central Coast California by Debbie Stock

Coast live oaks are prominent along California's Central Coast, dotting the hillsides along I-101.

Coast live oak is an important element in both natural and man-made landscapes, providing shade and an aesthetic quality. They stabilize soil on slopes, provide an organic-rich litter, and contribute to a habitat for a diversity of insects, birds, and mammals. Their acorns are an important food source for birds, small mammals, and deer, and were used by Native Americans as an important food staple.

The cross-section is from a large Coast Live Oak which grew on Trabuco Road & Serrano Creek in El Toro and toppled in 1985 after strong winds. It was estimated to be over 150 years old. It is on display at Orange County's Heritage Hill Historical Park in El Toro. Coast live oak is a native, drought-resistant, evergreen tree, ranging in height from 19 to 82 feet. Coast live oaks are wind pollinated.

Coast live oak exists in the coast ranges from north central California southward to northern Baja California. Specimens on the Filoli estate in San Mateo County showcase large, mature trees possibly dating several hundred years.

The irregular shape often let the tree escape widespread harvest for building timbers, and also led the early settlers to endow the Coast Live Oak with mystical qualities. Its stateliness has made it a subject of historical landscape painters throughout California modern history since the mid-19th century. Early European colonists found that the coast oak wood made a superior charcoal for use in a variety of industries, including baking and preparing mortar.

Coast Live Oak has never furnished considerable hardwood time, owing to the eccentric growth, shortness of the main trunk and habit of basal branching. However, it is of high fuel value and was in great demand during the days of sailing ships. Many large groves along the coast were destroyed and replaced by exotic trees. Fine old oaks are dying and aren't replaced either through nature or planting. In the 20th century nearly every town in California lost a showcase oak and though there is no prediction of extinction, within several centuries the may no longer be a common sight on the landscape.

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