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  • Writer's pictureLatifat Apatira, MD MPH

The Coast Live Oak woodland

Imagine. You step out onto the hilly coastal landscape three miles from the shore. Spread before you is a magnificent Coast Live Oak woodland that seems to stretch nearly to the ocean. Sunlight filter through the trees, creating entwined shapes and shadows on golden -leaf ground cover. Each oak is stately, a crown of contorted and gnarled lichen-and-moss-covered branches that sinuate in every direction. They’re majestic, beautiful and evergreen.

What a sight.

Coast Live Oak, Quercus agrifolia, is a type of Oak native to the California Floristic Province. Their distinct appearance dominated our local landscape and have done so for thousands of years. With dark green, oval, convex shaped leaves, some trees have been known to exceed 250 years old with massive trunks 12 feet in diameter. Flowers develop in early spring and the catkins release their pollen on the breeze. Smooth, deeply capped reddish-brown acorns develop later in the year, a food source for animal and humans alike. Indigenous peoples carefully prepared and consumed the acorns as a dietary staple. And due to the tree’s knurled and irregular shape, the Coast Live Oak was not a favored tree for building timber, which may explain the preservation of the oak for us to enjoy today.

While the revered Coast Live Oak woodlands of past times no longer exist due to human development, the trees are still a highly prized aspect of our landscape and create ecosystems for countless of other organisms. The Coast Live is one of my favorite trees and we all can still savor small pockets of these arresting lifeforms scattered around the Bay. A popular place to view them and imagine is on the busy Sawyer Camp Trail in San Mateo, CA. The trail’s northern terminus sweeps down a steep hill to the Crystal Springs Reservoir. Before reaching the lake, the trail dives between a dazzling tiny woodland of marvel and wonder.

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