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Plant Focus

Quercus texana New Madrid acorn
Disentangling the cultivar published as Quercus texana ‘New Madrid’.

2018 Post-Conference Tour #1: San Francisco Bay Area

The day after the 2018 Conference concluded, we set off from Davis in a number of small vans, rather than a tour bus, which meant that our group included the delightful company of several drivers from UC-Davis Arboretum staff. Our destination was the University of California Botanical Garden at Berkeley.

University of California Botanical Garden

Billed as one of the most diverse landscapes in the world, the Garden holds over 10,000 types of plants, with an emphasis on those from mediterranean climates. It also contains an excellent collection of Mexican oaks. When the Garden was relocated from the University campus to Strawberry Canyon in the 1920s, collections were grouped primarily by geographic regions. Under the informative guidance of Chris Carmichael and Vanessa Handley, we walked through some of the collections in two groups and lingered in the section rich in Mexican oaks.

Quercus gravesii, collected in Cuaohuila, Mexico by John Fairey, accessioned 1990. You can look up the oak collection at the UC Botanical Garden at Berkeley on their excellent Plant Database.

Driving south past San Francisco towards Santa Clara Valley, we turned up into the hills overlooking the urban conglomeration of Silicon Valley. At Long Ridge Open Space we ambled at length as the afternoon turned to evening, admiring beautifully structured canyon live oak (Quercus chrysolepis), as well as interior live oak (Q. wislizeni) and Shreve oak (Q. parvula var. shrevei). Our knowledgeable and enthusiastic guide, arborist Dave Muffly, showed us how to distinguish Shreve oak by the dark green color of the canopy that contrasts with the lighter surrounding oaks.

In the foreground, oaks at Long Ridge Open Space. Shreve's oak (Quercus parvula var. shrevei) is easily distinguished as the darker canopy just right of center

We spent the night in Cupertino and next morning drove to Stanford to explore an area of oak woodland and savanna known informally as “The Dish”, after a prominent radio telescope that sits at the top of a hill. We were welcomed by David Schrom, who has been responsible for restoring the oak woodland together with Dave Muffly. The land is also used for cattle grazing, so establishing oaks has been a challenge, involving the use of tree tubes for protection. We saw coast live oak (Q. agrifolia), valley oak (Q. lobata), blue oak (Q. douglasii), and the hybrid of these last two, Jolon oak (Q. ×jolonensis, a particular favorite of Dave’s).

Tree tubes in the oak woodland at The Dish, Stanford. Tubes had to be extended, inserting one into another, so as to protect the oak seedlings from deer, otherwise the oak leaves peaking out of the shorter tube would be "served up like a salad", as Dave Muffly explained.

Our jovial lunch took place at the headquarters of Magic Inc., an organization founded by David Schrom in the 1970s, and self-described as “people learning and communicating how humans can further common good by practicing valuescience—scientific methods and principles applied to questions of value.” We were hosted by David and by Jen and Hilary Bayer, also Magic residents, who had presented a Lightning Talk at the Conference.

Climbing the hill towards the Dish in Stanford's oak woodland

The highlight of our Tour was the afternoon’s visit to the stunning campus in Cupertino recently built by Apple Inc. Photographs were strictly forbidden, so we had to leave our phones and cameras in the vans, but we were able to walk all the way around the impressive ring-shaped building, among the thousands of oaks planted in the grounds. Nine thousand trees have been planted on the campus, including apricots and other fruit trees, but oaks dominate. The visit to the Dish at Stanford had been ideal preparation for Apple Park, as it was one of Steve Jobs’s favorite hikes, and it was the oak woodland there that inspired his vision of what he wanted to create on the campus. In fact, it was by enquiring after the arborist responsible for oak plantings at the Stanford oak woodland that Jobs’s team found Dave Muffly, who was hired as the arborist for the new campus.

The Apple building from the balcony of the Visitor Center

Jobs originally envisioned planting native oaks, but Dave convinced him to expand the palette, and the result is a varied selection of over 60 oak taxa, from native Q. douglasii to exotics from far-off lands like Q. coccifera subsp. calliprinos. There is no space in this summary to describe the project in detail, but you can see drone footage from October 2017 here, you can read about it in a feature on Dave Muffly here, or even hear about it in Steve Jobs’s own words when he presented the project to Cupertino City Council in 2011, here.

The group in the Stanford oak woodland © Rachel Davis

That evening the first Post-Tour concluded, but for many the fun continued in the second Post-Tour. A huge thank you to our patient and efficient Tour organizer Rachel Davis, to our drivers, Nina Suzuki, Emily Griswold, Miles DaPrato, and Ryan Deering, and to the ebullient Dave Muffly (you should check out his new website, www.oaktopia.org, which is packed full of oak knowledge!).


A detailed Tour report will be published in the 2019 issue of International Oaks (Proceedings of the 9th International Oak Society Conference). You can view more photographs of this Tour in a photo gallery here, and a related blog post about Apple Park here.

Photos © Roderick Cameron unless specified.