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Plant Focus

Quercus peninsularis
A Red Oak (Section Lobatae) endemic to inland ranges of northern Baja California, Mexico

IOS Tour of Oregon, September 2023

Trip report by Nick Lake and Greg Tyler

We kicked off the International Oak Society Tour of Oregon at Rancho Cistus, the home of our valiant Tour guide Sean Hogan and partner Preston Pew. The Cistus Design Nursery gardens sprawl around the original retail site, with many plantings going back to 2004. Recent garden expansions are under development! This opening evening, our amazing group of oak enthusiasts shared drinks and food (generously sponsored by Bartlett Tree Experts), and became fast friends as we perused the Cistus gardens, observing over 100 different Quercus species! The collection is worthy and invaluable, and extends far beyond the genus Quercus, illuminating the wonders of the global botanical haven we call Earth.

Sean Hogan in Cistus
Sean Hogan showing the plantings at Cistus Design Nursery © Sairus Patel

Our first full day brought us back to Cistus Nursery for morning presentations from Ed Alverson, Adam Black, and Brian French, sharing historical, cultural, scientific, and arborist perspectives about oaks in Oregon.

Adam Black presenting at Cistus Nursery
Adam Black presenting at Cistus Design Nursery © John Leszczynski

Our adventures in the field began only a few miles away from Cistus Nursery, at Sauvie Island’s Biomimicry Trail, where we observed massive Quercus garryana (Garry oak), including one which according to Brian French is in the running for State Champion.

Large Quercus garryana on Sauvie Island
A large Quercus garryana on Sauvie Island © Roderick Cameron

From there we commenced our multi-car caravan, jumping into Portland to view the garden of IOS member and Tour participant Greg Tyler, featuring a beautiful collection of young Quercus, Chrysolepis, Arctostaphylos, Frangula, Mahonia, and so much more, crammed yet balanced in a large Portland urban lot. Exquisite! We then visited perhaps the largest Quercus chrysolepis in Portland, sprawling out far and wide during its 100 years of life and drama on 22nd and Alameda.

Large Q. chrysolepis
Tour participants with the historic Quercus chrysolepis in Portland © Sairus Patel

From there we continued on to visit some of Sean Hogan’s earliest plantings in Portland, including his original—and the first—Quercus hypoleucoides planted in Portland. Though just ~30 years old, these trees tower tall and beautiful in front of his past home. With daylight fading, we headed to Hoyt Arboretum for a final stop of the day, observing and collecting from Hoyt’s impressive set of Notholithocarpus densiflorus (tan oak), along with other West Coast collections adjacent to the parking lot planted by Sean years ago. Having set an ambitious pace on day one, we rested well in preparation for our next adventures.

Acer circinatum Mount Hood in the background
Acer circinatum with Mount Hood in the background © Sairus Patel

The next morning took us out Lolo Pass Road in the Mount Hood Wilderness. Passing through a somewhat typical Pacific Northwest conifer-dominated forest, we were finally rewarded with vast swaths of Chrysolepis chrysophylla (golden chinquapin), where prior logging gave them the upper hand in the forest’s succession. The gorgeous yellow leaf undersides of the golden chinquapin were spectacularly accented by the brilliant gray-blue leaves of Arctostaphylos columbiana and the bright red fall color of Acer circinatum. The combination looked as thoughtful as any of the best garden designs one can imagine.

Chrysolepis chrysophylla
Chrysolepis chrysophylla on Mount Hood © Roderick Cameron

Passing east over Lolo Pass down toward Hood River and out along the Columbia River Gorge, we arrived at Rowena Crest in Mosier, Oregon. Rowena Crest afforded us amazing views, contextualizing the difference between the west and east Cascade ecosystems. If it were spring we would have been bombarded with wild flowers, but the real focus here was a beautiful woodland of Q. garryana. Here, near the eastern edge of their range, these Garry oaks stood much shorter and stockier than their champion tree counterparts on Sauvie Island. Shaped from the Columbia River Gorge winds, with much less rainfall than on the west side of the Cascades, these trees had beautiful curved and stunted forms. True here on Rowena Crest as well as further south later in our trip, Q. garryana made up for last year’s missing acorn crop with a bumper crop this year, and many acorns were collected! We finished the day with a festive feast at the pFreim Brewery in Hood River.

Quercus garryana in the hairpin bend at Rowena Crest
Short and stocky Quercus garryana at Rowena Crest © Roderick Cameron

Our next day took us further! Straddling the border of Oregon and California, the Klamath Mountains were the focus of the second part of the IOS Tour of Oregon. On the way, we stopped at the property of IOS members Mark and Jolly Krautmann. Amidst the rolling hills of wine country, they are on a mission to restore several hundred acres of land into native Garry oak (Q. garryana) savanna. The Willamette Valley once had abundant oak savannas, but most have succumbed to human development, invasive species, and the lack of periodic wildfires. After an enlightening tour of the property, we were treated by the Krautmanns to a scrumptious lunch along with delightful wine from the neighboring Coleman Vineyards winery. With our bellies full and spirits high, we resumed our journey southward to the Klamath Mountains.

Wine tasting at Mark and Jolly Krautmann's place
Wine tasting by Coleman Vineyards at the home of Mark and Jolly Krautmann near McMinniville © Roderick Cameron

As we approached the southern extent of the Willamette Valley, a remarkable transformation in the landscape unfolded. The ubiquitous Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) forests gradually gave way to a more diverse array of tree species. First, the occasional glimpse of the California black oak (Q. kelloggii) and an increasing number of Pacific madrone (Arbutus menziesii). Then, as we entered the Klamath Mountains, the canyon live oak (Q. chrysolepis) became a common sight along with many other woody species. Approaching the town of Grants Pass in the Rogue River Valley, we could not help but marvel at the outstanding botanical diversity of the Klamath Mountains. Our journey continued southwest to the Eight Dollar Mountain Botanical Area—a key destination on our adventure.

Quercus vacciniifolia on Eight Dollar Mountain
Quercus vacciniifolia on Eight Dollar Mountain © Greg Tyler

Here, we had the opportunity to observe one of the unique geologic aspects of the Klamath Mountains: vast outcrops of serpentinite and peridotite, rocks typically found far below the surface in Earth’s upper mantle. The unusual soil chemistry resulting from this geologic anomaly has fostered the evolution of a rich array of endemic plant species, including the only carnivorous plant in the Western United States (Darlingtonia californica, the California pitcher plant), as well as whispers of Sasquatch sightings. Our initial encounter with this captivating area left us eagerly anticipating a return expedition the next morning.

Notholithocarpus densiflorus var. echinoides
Notholithocarpus densiflorus var. echinoides on Fiddler Peak © Greg Tyler

Upon returning to Eight Dollar Mountain, we ascended a long, winding gravel road to a high mountain saddle on Fiddler Peak and found ourselves gazing upon a remarkable chaparral habitat rich with species, including an outstanding population of Chrysolepis chrysophylla.

Fiddler Peak
Fiddler Peak © Greg Tyler

This was no ordinary landscape; it had been thoroughly burned in the 2002 Biscuit Fire and we could witness the rapid regeneration of these fire-adapted species among the charred remains. The sheer beauty of this place was so profound that Sean brought the late Steve Jobs to this very spot. Here, Sean shared his inspiration for the proposed landscape design of Apple’s iconic headquarters.

Quercus sadleriana
Quercus sadleriana © Greg Tyler

After enjoying a delightful picnic lunch amid this natural splendor, our journey continued as we left Grants Pass behind, on our way to the Oregon Coast. Following the winding path of the Rogue River Canyon, the landscape was adorned with its namesake—the canyon live oak (Q. chrysolepis), its roots clinging tenaciously to steep, rocky cliffs. As we ascended to higher elevations and a moister habitat, we came upon a grove of the rare Shasta red fir (Abies magnifica var. shastensis) with large, dense patches of deer oak (Q. sadleriana) in the understory. Beyond the heights of Bear Camp Summit, our winding descent eventually led us to the small coastal town of Brookings, Oregon. Here we were treated to a splendid dinner at the fabulous mid-century home of Scot Medbury and Brian Lim. Outlined by moonlight and guided by flashlights, we toured their outstanding garden (Zone 10, folks!) exhibiting the beauty of both native and exotic plant species.

Quercus sadleriana and Abies magnifica var. shastensis
Quercus sadleriana under Abies magnifica var. shastensis © Greg Tyler

The following morning we embarked on a scenic journey southward along the picturesque coast, meandering through redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) forests (these colossal Californian trees also like to live in Oregon, a little bit). We then returned inland and were soon tracing the course of the Trinity River and its steep rocky banks. Here, the canyon live oak had a lovely partner in its hot, dry habitat; the blue-needled Pinus sabiniana. The tapestry created by these two iconic species was one of the most memorable of the journey.

Quercus durata
Quercus durata © Greg Tyler

Welcome to Weaverville, California! This charming and historic settlement still has remnants of California’s gold mining era dating back to the early 1840s. After settling into our cozy accommodations, we embarked on an afternoon adventure that took us to the breathtaking area of Hayfork Summit. It quickly became apparent that this stop would be a highlight for many of us in the caravan. We were spellbound by the abundance of large Q. durata specimens, and the striking beauty of a unique Frangula californica subsp. tomentella population with leaves of blue-gray velvet. As evening descended, we gathered for a lively dinner in the well-preserved gold mining town and recounted the excitement of the day.

Nick Lake picking Arctostaphylos berries
Nick Lake among Frangula californica subsp. tomentella on Hayfork Summit © Greg Tyler

As the sun rose to greet the first light of day, we embarked on an exhilarating trip to Buckhorn Peak. Our morning began with a slightly precarious ascent of a narrow, steep mountain road, its surface resembling a sandy beach due to highly decomposed granite. Despite a wildfire just four years prior, an unusual "dwarf form" tan oak (according to Sean, different to Nothoithocarpus densiflorus var. echinoides) was thriving in the understory and abundant with acorns, and the regional form of Arctostaphylos manzanita had resprouted, the new growth reaching for the sun through the sun-bleached branches of its former self. After our descent we made our way to Redding, Calif., where at the northern extent of the Sacramento Valley we again had the opportunity to observe well-preserved oak savannas. But these were not the Garry oak savannas of the Willamette Valley; these were Douglas oaks (Q. douglasii) with leaves the color of the sky (on a clear, sunny day of course!).

Dwarf form Notholithocarpus densiflorus
Dwarf form of Notholithocarpus densiflorus in flower on Buckhorn Peak © Nick Lake

As the day quickly progressed, we hurried to reach the heights of Mount Ashland just across the border in Oregon before sunset. Temperatures plummeted due to the elevation and the presence of dense wildfire smoke, prompting us to don our down jackets. Here we observed large stands of Chrysolepis sempervirens, a species common in California but only found in this small region of Southwest Oregon. After quickly observing a few more botanical curiosities by flashlight, it was time to depart and head to dinner in the city of Ashland, Oregon. The following morning, we reluctantly began our journey back to the city of Portland and back to the real world. However, our adventure was far from over. Just north of Grants Pass, we ventured onto a large serpentine outcrop. Here, amidst widely spaced Jeffrey pines (Pinus jeffreyi) and dwarf Garry oaks, we sought a mystery waiting to be unraveled. Was this really the northernmost population of Q. durata ever found?

The group at Fiddler Peak
Tour participants on Fiddler Peak @ Augustus Schwarz

Alas, we continued our long drive into the Willamette Valley and back to Portland, none too happy to observe the rapidly declining botanical diversity as we departed the Klamath Mountains. However, Sean was prepared to give us all one last plant fix with a stop at Argyle Winery, a Cistus Design project that, as one would expect, did not disappoint members of the International Oak Society. Glasses of Oregon bubbly in hand, we all toasted to a fantastic trip, all the unique plants seen, and new friends made.

 A detailed report of the IOS Tour of Oregon will be published in May 2024 in International Oaks No. 35, the IOS Journals. You can view more photos of the trip on Instagram under #IOSOregon