Sunday, January 1, 2012

Palomar and Beyond- a nutty day

Canyon Live Oak acorns and caps (Quercus chrysolepis)
Acorns from Tan Oak (Notholithocarpus densiflorus) & Canyon Live Oak
California Black Oak acorns (Quercus kelloggii)
Interior Live Oak acorns (possibly a hybrid Q. wislizenii x kelloggii)
The real acorn mother load came today when we were traveling up to the Palomar Observatory.  As we rapidly gained elevation the forests quickly transitioned from Coastal Sage Scrub to Lower and Upper Chaparral communities.  At the summit there were even conifers such as White Fir (Abies concolor) and Incense Cedar (Calocedrus decurrens) amongst patches of snow.  The biggest surprise for me was seeing Bigcone Douglas Fir (Psuedotsuga macrocarpa), which as the name implies, has a large cone (about twice the size of a normal Douglas Fir), but otherwise looks the same.  While rounding a corner in the midst of the Canyon Live Oak (Quercus chrysolepis) forests I noticed acorns strewn across the road and quickly yanked the car into a pull off.  The acorns were huge!  The largest were 45 mm long and 20 mm wide and they had a rich even brown color and a waxy smooth finish except for the bluntly rounded tip which had a fuzzy white coating.  There was another type of acorn that was also very large but was shorter and wider, perhaps Tan Oak (Notholithocarpus densiflorus), but I couldn’t find any leaves or caps.  We quickly collected about 2 gallons of acorns just on the road shoulder.  When we arrived at the observatory we saw some very large Canyon Live Oaks, but the acorns were slightly smaller.  Planted along the path to the Hale Telescope were several Black Oaks (Quercus kelloggii) that despite heavy loads of Broadleaf Mistletoe (Phoradendron macrophyllum), were producing good crops of acorns that were 28-35 mm long and 18-23 mm wide.*  Time was slipping away all too quickly but we hastily collected a gallon to experiment with.  Black Oak was one of the preferred acorns varieties by the Kumeyaay and the Luiseno, who may have relied on acorns for nearly half of their diet (see here and here for ethnobotanical information).  Just a few steps closer to the Hale Telescope we encountered yet another oak species, Interior Live Oak (Quercus wislizenii), which was still dropping acorns.  I collected a quick half gallon to experiment with.  The acorns were 30-35 mm long and 13-15 mm wide.*  One of the trees had well developed lobes and I think was a hybrid with Q. kelloggii.  There wasn’t much to see when we finally made it to the massive 200” Hale Telescope since it was still light out, but I spotted a Western Blue Bird with Katrina’s 1.5” binoculars.  Her binoculars also proved useful for the rest of the trip for watching the moons of Jupiter.

Coastal Live Oak (Quercus agrifolia)
Coastal Live Oak (Quercus agrifolia) acorn
From there we drove down the mountain and towards Anza Borrego Desert State Park.  Along the way we encountered some beautiful savannah grown Coastal Live Oaks (Quercus agrifolia) that were still dropping acorns.  These acorns were long (40-45 mm) and slender (12-15 mm) with striations.*  I only had time to collect a cup full because we wanted to find a camp before dark.  Our small scenic road merged with route 79 and then 78 as we continued to drop elevation.  A constant stream of RV’s towing ATV’s met us going the other direction.  Apparently, the week between Christmas and New Years is the high season for many desert parks and recreation areas.  By the time we found a level section of desert to throw out our bedrolls the sun had already set.

*Note:  all measurements were taken from acorns that we collected, which were systematically collected for their average to large size.

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