Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Gray Oak / Quercus grisea

Once people in my region get over cliche, high water-use trees, this underused and attractive tree is often noted as a favorite.

A single Gray Oak / Quercus grisea in a natural area at about 6,200' elevation in NE Abq, protected from typical development practices:

If you'd rather skip the detailed information, more pretty pictures are found further down.

Gray Oak is a broadleaf evergreen tree, and its stature is medium (20-35' height x spread) to small (12-20'), depending on moisture availability and soil type. It grows at a moderate, 18"-24" / year rate, but if over-watered too frequently, it usually dies. It is strong-wooded and deep-rooted. Like many oaks, it often hybridizes with nearby oaks; near me, that is Q. turbinella and even Q. arizonica; higher in elevation it is Q. gambelii. Soils in it's range are mostly alkaline and rarely neutral. It is native to foothill edges of the Chihuahuan Desert region and adjacent lowlands, and grows in desert grassland, savanna, chaparral, and rocky uplands, especially along arroyos and where boulders trap stormwater runoff. (not much dew to condense, so...) I would rate Gray Oak as hardy in Sunset Zone 3 and USDA Cold Hardiness Zone 6. It is moderate to low water-use, once established.

It is not found in colder areas, from Santa Fe and Los Alamos northward, including Rocky Mountain foothills and Great Plains edges.

Having travelled in remote areas of SE Colorado and NE New Mexico, I've not seen anything resembling Gray Oak N of the canyons near Roy and Mosquero, but rather, Q. undulata is common with even a few Q. mohriana. But I am open to seeing good documentation to the contrary.

More on Gray Oak - here and here.

Regardless, I believe Gray Oak is definitely worth a try in such places as Boise, Santa Fe or Los Alamos, and even more extreme climates like Denver, to add a new dimension to their tree palette. The reason for my optimism is based on countless observations and climatic research. Of course, it is deserving of trials and actual use in landscapes between 3500-6500' elevations in the southwest.

I recall it thriving at a southwestern planting near the Ballard Locks in Seattle, which like parts of California, is probably more easy on the plant than it's own native habitat. On the Pacific slopes of California and southern Oregon, stick to your native species, to avoid potential habitat issues. But where native live oaks don't exist naturally in mild climates such as "Cascadia", I say, "go for it!"

It is uncommon in nurseries in my region, since most still only grow higher water-use species, continuing to unprofessionally perpetuate an inappropriate tree palette. They also squander a money-making opportunity to supply awesome-looking, more xeric trees such as this, that meet landscape codes existing since as long ago as 1995. Bright, eh?

But a couple of growers do carry limited quantities of this species, though of smaller planted sizes than are often required:



























I found some at Trees That Please in Valencia County.

To compensate for small size, I called out a 36" box / 12' tree on the landscape plan, knowing an alternate method may be needed. On this hot, humid August day, we selected (3) - 8' tall x 2' wide x 1-1/2" caliper and (1) - 5' tall x 18" wide x 1" caliper trees, placing them in the same large hole. Instant, almost 36" boxed Gray Oak! This is similar to the clumping or multi-trunk habits of many in the wild.

This is a key area, as viewed from people going to the owner's home, as well as on-axis leaving their house: 
 
(specimen trees for key areas must be nicer than 4" caliper lollipops - "specimen" as excused defined in the region)

And some views in early November, after the installation was completed.


A natural Gray Oak grouping in the arroyo bordering the west and north side of my property, fed by a spring N of the freeway:

And some typical foliage in mid-winter, photographed today:

Juvenile foliage often has prickles on the leaf margins, but older foliage loses that and is smooth with a pointed tip, and small (under 1-1/2" in length). Of course, broadleaf evergreen trees can be deciduous, when the tree is recently planted and unestablished (I find it takes at least 2 or 3 years to establish a smaller tree, more if larger). Or the winter is unusually cold, such as the last few.

Just some ideas of the winter foliage. Nice!
 
And the bark of a typical, mature tree:
I hope you find that all the positive attributes of Gray Oak outweigh the few perceived negatives, which all plants have.

I posted on the nearby foothills plant community where Gray Oak is found; it is of Madrean origins, not Rocky Mountain - here.

20 comments:

  1. georgeinbandon,oregon1/11/12, 10:36 PM

    great pictures and commentary on this relatively unknown and unused oak. one question what "habitat issues" should we be trying to avoid if considering using this species in southern oregon---possible hybridization with the native white oaks? really enjoy your blog even though my garden in "cascadia" (southern oregon coast) might seem to have a very different climate, we also have to deal with definite dry periods and selecting and growing drought tolerant plants for gardens and landscapes is important.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks! My concern is in places more like here, that it might start volunteering into natural areas, as well as what you state. So, best to monitor it for any such issue - though I think places where there are live oaks, one should use their own species, instead of one from the SW foothills.

      Delete
  2. This post reminds me of the beginning when I was less skilled or interested in photography. People will skip my literary skills in Spanish then, leaving comments like: Nice pictures!

    Since this post covers the whole court it can not be chewed and swallow in one shot. What I do when in these situations is to read quickly to find out what the hell goes on...returning later slowly enjoying the parts, checking for crevices/faults to criticize, but here it is impossible...Excellent post..Until then.

    Almost forgot. Every time I drop by I become more aware that vegetation in deserts have some particular needs in every eco-region and evidently every desert like climate/soil is not the same as the other or next one close by.

    Which reminds me that I have observed a desert like quality in the vegetation, weeds/broad leave weeds and plants,trees with weed behavior in abandoned buildings,roofs, cracks, parking lots near by our residence. I thought about it, after you posted on patterns being this or that in the garden. The more I look at them, the more I think of it. There is nothing more inhospitable than asphalt, however plants/weeds find ways to grow and propagate on the surface or under it, penetrating and coming to the surface.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That is how I approach something more-in-depth, too! Very true on different deserts (CA, NV mostly the driest in the US...NM, TX mostly the wettest in the US). Also true on how certain plants can "pioneer" into what we think is inhospitable. And some of those plants are valuable for gardens! By the way, this Gray Oak and other chaparral species often do seed and root into boulders or bedrock via the cracks.

      Delete
  3. As I read the part about the grouping of the small trees my eyes naturally looked out the window at two oak mottes in the front yard here. Groups of 4 or more leaning in different directions.

    Your way is just right, imitating nature. The single live oak plopped in the middle of a new yard never looks quite right, worse still are the rings of them in 4' wide spaces around a parking lot. I always knew this, now I understand exactly why.

    Beautiful installation. Great post.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Those mottes and clumps are my favorite thing about upland trees, once one moves to the drier side of forests. And the cliche "group of 3" in Abq landscapes is not nearly as appealing as the assymetrical group of 4 or more!

      I wish #1 - nurseries grew more multi-trunk trees, and #2 were planted in groves and groups...thanks for the business idea #1 and site design idea #2!

      Thanks! I need to swing by her house soon!

      Delete
  4. I always learn something, when I come here.
    I love that first photo.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Very cool! That first place is at La Cueva Picnic Area, one canyon N of the road to the Sandia Tram. Amazing what 16" rain / year does here over 10"!

      Delete
  5. Wonderful looking trees. I'm always tempted by your desert plants, particularly after our dryest 12 months on record in Texas--now over hallelujah! Am thinking the Hill Country doesn't have the right altitude or soil for this one, though.

    But I put in an oak with some similarities--Lacey Oak (Q. laceyi)--a few years ago in a bedrock area where everything else struggled. The oak has thrived. More confirmation about planting the right thing in the right place...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I hope it's over for you and us, but I have this feeling it's not... I think you are right, especially the elevation (and moderate to cooler temps) Your choice is perfect, and my TX Forest Svc friend in San Antonio would applaud your choice, as his have done great.

      Delete
  6. I really think this tree is quite attractive and would add some nice contrast with greener colors from other plants surrounding it. I don't think I've met an oak tree that I didn't like:) If I lived in the area, I think it would be one of the trees I'd want to plant.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Me too about not passing one up...oaks rule! It wasn't 20 years ago and western oaks were mostly unavailable. What surprised me, though they aren't totally happy, are the Silverleaf Oak plantings in part of the Tucson Convention Ctr parking lot! I should post on those.

      Delete
  7. It's a great oak and is plentiful in the Chisos, Davis and Guadalupe mts. in TX. I have a favorite one that is along the Smith Springs trail in the Guadalupes. It is about 10' tall and has great form.

    It's great that TTP sells them. I wonder if growing in the ground would be better than above in those fabric bags? Someone wanting a single tree might want a fuller canopy. But then again, who else has them?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That is what I've heard. There are some really nice Gray Oak specimens in arroyos just west of the foothills of the Manzano Mtns, plus nice ones in the Organ Mtns. Some over 30', most under 20'.

      For the Manzano foothills, see -
      http://desertedge.blogspot.com/2010/02/foothills-influences-in-central-nm.html

      Yeah, TTP does, as well as Mtn States (I collected some of that seed). Of course, only TTP's are true...eveyone elses' Gray Oak trees are mutts, hybrids...

      I agree - they should have some larger canopy ones. Business idea noted...

      Delete
  8. Gorgeous! I'm drooling over the thought of a live oak species that *could* survive in the Denver region. Will keep it in mind next time I'm working in Gambel oak habitat.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It might make it there...I bet Dan or Panayoti have some at DBG! What is called "Gray Oak" in SE Colorado looks more like deciduous Q. undulata (and nice ones, too...I may have to post on that area)

      FYI - Gambel Oak can become nice tree sized, takes heat fine, as it does great in Roswell, Abq. And many down here are not huge clumps, but individuals (may have to post on those, too).

      Delete
  9. Replies
    1. Glad you like. If you are too moist overall for our SW foothill oaks, how about Escarpment Live Oak from central / west TX...it takes humidity fine, needs 20"+ of rain / year, and it takes desert soils and temps in Abq to Phoenix. Deciduous at 0-5F, some damage <-10F.

      Delete
  10. Cool plant! And a really cool name for a nursery--"Trees that Please..." Right up there with "Plant Parenthood"

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I've heard of that Plant Parenthood nursery, too! Must have been taken when the owner of Plant Delights started his place in NC, as that name might be right up his alley!

      Delete

Thanks for visiting! I try responding to comments within a few days, though my day job can call. Comments now require word-verification, thanks to evil spammers...