Back before pilgrims and celebrations of food and football, at least 12 native California tribes depended on the acorns of coast live oaks and considered them a staple.
Beyond nourishing humans, California oaks are considered a keystone species, meaning that many other animals and plants depend on them and grow in relationship to them. There are over 160 animal species and over 40 plant species that live in relation to California oaks.
With 19 different species of oak in California, there is about one for nearly every ecosystem – from our channel islands to the desert and areas in between.
The coast live oak is probably the most commonly planted oak in southern California, and therefore the most available at nurseries. This evergreen oak grows to be 20-70′ tall x 30-85′ wide, and can be found growing up to 50 miles inland of the California coast, all the way from Mendocino County, California to northern Baja California. It can live for up to 250 years.
Coast live oaks are very adapted to our long hot summers, allowing them to go without or to use very little supplemental water in summer. The leaves have prickly spines and those on the outer edge of the canopy are thick due to the two to three layers of photosynthetic cells, thus making it one of the most efficient trees at converting light into energy. Now if we could all be that efficient with what we consume on Thanksgiving, we’d be in very good shape.