Sunday, January 25, 2009

Sudden tanoak death

The latest Pacific storm, mild as it was, blew the haze right out of Silicon Valley and greened up the moss and lichens in our foothills... a perfect afternoon for a stroll through beautiful Huddart County Park in Woodside. As in many of our coastal range forests, the tanoak is widespread in Huddart. A variable tree, it is often found at the margins of dense redwood groves, heroically stretching upward to compete for sunlight with the world's tallest species.

The tanoak has tremendous aesthetic value, its rather smooth light gray bark, mottled with patches of moss, providing contrast with the deeply fissured and dark maroon redwood trunks. The tanoak's ovoid, deep green, and slightly serrated leaves remind me a little of the leaves of the American chestnut, a magnificent east-coast beauty that no longer grows beyond head height before succumbing to the chestnut blight.

Our tanoaks now suffer a similar fate, alas--this species apparently the tree most vulnerable to sudden oak death. The accompanying photo, from a UC-Berkeley report, is typical of what one sees throughout Huddart Park. One's sadness at what may eventually be the loss of 100 percent of the tanoaks is compounded by the thought that the sudden oak death organism, Phytophthora ramorum, is ubiquitous in these hills. The notion that its spread may be slowed much by human effort seems wishful thinking to me. If the true oaks prove to be no more resistant than the tanoaks, the California landscape faces drastic and depressing changes ahead.

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