Plants, unless tossed about by wind or humans, don’t move much. We can walk right by them, as if blind to their existence. Plant blindness is a term coined in 1998 by scientists James Wandersee and Elizabeth Schussler to describe the human trait to not notice vegetation.
When people can’t even see a plant, they are less likely to understand what role it has in the ecosystem. Creek helpers might remind others that plants work hard. They filter water, prevent erosion, provide food, and sequester carbon dioxide, along with many other jobs. Trees create shade that cools the air and water for fish, and roots that filter water and keep the creek banks from washing away in storms. Trees bring birds back to the creek, and give cooling shade for people and other life forms escaping hot sun.
Right now Colgan Creek needs more trees and shrubs to create cooling shade and cover. We know that jays and other small animals stash acorns in the ground for eating later, and these acorns often sprout and become trees. But we want to plant more trees by intention than jays or squirrels can propagate accidentally.
Growing more trees is up to us amateurs. Amateur is French, from the Latin word for someone who loves—in this case someone who loves trees and wants to help them thrive. Sometimes amateurs can have superb results growing trees because they have their heart in their work, tending the plants that will one day become trees. A few healthy oaks can provide living space for well over 5,000 other species!
The simplest way to grow more trees and shrubs is to buy them. Less easy is propagation, which can be tricky, according to experts. When you succeed, do share your processes with others. We are all learning here!
Valley Oak (Quercus lobata ) California boasts 20 species of oak tree, but Colgan Creek has the right conditions for only a few, including blue oak, red oak, valley oak and the non-native cork oak. Valley oaks are the ones we want, since they thrive near creeks—and can live 600 years! You can purchase a seedling (see chart below) or plant acorns you gather from the tree or the ground.
Seedlings or Acorns
If you buy your seedling, care for it until it’s time to plant it in the ground. If you want to propagate a tree, start from an acorn. Take valley oak acorns from the tree in early fall, if they are turning brown and the cap twists off easily in your fingers. Or, pick acorns off the ground— only fresh-looking valley oak acorns, without cracks, mold or insect holes.
Twist off the caps and drop the acorns in a bucket of water, keeping the ones that sink. First put the keepers on a flat surface to dry, about half an hour, then place in a plastic bag in the fridge for a month. (Acorns that sprout in the fridge should be planted right away.) See Propagating Plants for more information.
“There’s a reason why native plants are so hard to grow—there are so many variables. It’s hard work and takes constant attention because the plants have idiosyncratic needs.”
— Phil Van Soelen, California Flora Nursery