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Plant Focus

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Dwarf cultivars can be ideal for a small garden. Here are three "mini oaks". 

Sutter's Fort's Sessile Oak

An oak planted to commemorate the foundation of the city of Sacramento turned 80 this year, and the IOS has helped set the record straight on what sort of oak it is. Sutter’s Fort in Sacramento, California, was established in 1839 by John Augustus Sutter, a German-born Swiss pioneer. Sutter earned renown when workmen building a sawmill for him discovered gold, setting in motion the California Gold Rush. Sacramento was subsequently founded in the same area and the Fort has been preserved as part of Sutter’s Fort State Historic Park.

Sessile oak Sutters Fort
The sessile oak in Sutter's Fort State Historic Park (photo courtesy California State Parks)

In 1939, in honor of the Golden Empire Centennial, as the centenary celebration of the founding of Sacramento was styled, the city of Kandern in Baden-Württemberg, Germany, Sutter’s birthplace, presented the Fort with an oak. It was ceremoniously planted and has grown well and become a center-piece of the park. According to Nancy Jenner, Curator of  Sutter’s Fort State Historic Park, “it is the first thing visitors see when they walk in, and many of the park’s programs take place around it, in the shade it provides.”

Planting sessile oak
Planting the oak at Sutter's Fort to mark the centenary of the founding of Sacramento, July 19th 1939 (photo from the Harry Peterson Collection, California State Parks, #080-11-6440B*)

As the oak’s 80th birthday approached, Nancy became troubled by the question of the oak’s identity. According to the Park’s records, the oak had been presented as a Quercus cerris, but visitors had commented that it did not look like that species, and some quick research revealed that the species was not native to southern Germany.

Then and now

A side-by-side comparison of the oak as a newly planted sapling (left) and as it looks today (photo on left is from the Harry Peterson Collection, California State Parks, #080-11-6678D,* photo on right courtesy California State Parks)

Fortunately she contacted the IOS via our website and we were able to forward her photographs and description to Eike Jablonski, a member of the Taxonomy Committee. Eike pronounced it to be “very clearly a Quercus petraea (sessile oak), with very good features: a yellow petiole, symmetric leaf shape. If it is 80 years old, it shows good growth and that it is happy in its location.” One characteristic was not easily explained: it has not been known to bear acorns. Perhaps it is due to California’s climate, which it would not be accustomed to?

Leaves
A twig of the sessile oak at Sutter's Fort, showing the yellow petioles typical of the species (photo courtesy California State Parks)

In addition to this oak in the Fort yard, the park surrounding Sutter’s Fort was planted heavily with oaks in the period from 1904-1920. According to Nancy, it was originally intended as an arboretum for native California trees, but this plan was not fully adhered to. Nevertheless, it still gives the effect of a planting of native oaks. It is a pity Nancy did not contact us a year ago: Sutter’s Fort is a stone’s throw away from Sacramento Library, where the Gala Dinner for the Davis Conference took place last year. Perhaps we might have convened for cocktails under the shade of this impressive sessile oak . . .


* See California State Parks Online Museum Collections - Conditions of Use http://www.museumcollections.parks.ca.gov/code/emuseum.asp?page=legal