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As It Was: Regional Botanical Diversity Includes Canyon Live Oak

Southern Oregon and Northern California’s botanical diversity includes the Canyon Live Oak, one of the earliest known oak species to evolve in North America.  Fossil records suggest the resilient and adaptable tree migrated to the region from Mexico.

When the Canyon Live Oak grows on exposed slopes, it forms thickets, but sheltered by a canyon, the tree can become majestic, reaching heights of 100 feet and living for some 300 years.

Native peoples relied on the tree’s acorns when the preferred species, such as black or white oak, produced poor crops.  Early settlers called the tree “Maul Oak” because of its heavyweight, tight grained, tough wood. Besides mauls, the pioneers used it for axe handles, wedges for splitting soft woods, wagon axels and wheels, building pegs, and braces.

An evergreen, it has thick, dark-green leaves that on the same tree can appear either smooth, or toothed like holly leaves. 

The leathery, wax-coated leaves adapt to dry periods by reducing water evaporation, a characteristic that should prove fortunate during this year’s regional lack of rain and shallow snowpack.

Sources: Anderson, M. Kat. Tending the Wild: Native American Knowledge of California's Natural Resources. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2005. 100. Print; Ruediger, Luke. The Siskiyou Crest: Hikes, History, and Ecology. Jacksonville, OR: Luke Ruediger, 2013. 102-03. Print; Thornburgh, Dale A. "Quercus chrysolepis Liebm.” Web. 21 Mar. 2014. .

Shockey has been a long-time JPR contributor and enjoys supporting the Southern Oregon Historical Society and JPR by digging up regional stories.