Wednesday, December 3, 2008

We called it a White Oak.






White Oak or Garry Oak distribution map thanks to Betsy Rose.






Carol said...
“We have oaks on the east coast and we call these things "puff balls", because if you stomp on them they made a puff of smoke.”

Hi Carol!
What you call a "puffball", is actually a “puffball mushroom” It grows out of the ground in meadows and pastures, but it is quite different from an Oak Ball. The “Oak Ball” is a “gall” that grows on the oak.


The White Oak is variously called the California White Oak or the Valley Oak. They have one and seven eighths inch long acorns. They are long and slender and sweet. The Old Timers call it a “Mush Oak”, because the Indians used to eat the acorns for mush. When they are small they are called Scrub Oak. These are all names for just one tree, and there are many other oak trees with just as many names for each one, so it's okay to be confused. The large oaks in the Laytonville Valley appear to be Oregon Oak or Garry Oak, because the are a white oak with a small round acorn. Where just a short ways south in the Gyserville area they have the classic California White oak with the long acorns. I tried looking up a few "White Oaks" and there are more than twenty-five varieties, so it is easily confusing for a novice like me to be identifing trees from memory.




The Indians used to burn the valleys, from the edges to the center to kill the small trees and get rid of bugs and fungus and diseases. The small White Oaks (as I call them) are called Scrub Oaks. They spring up around the main tree and take over if they are not burned or thinned out, so nowadays you will see a small Scrub Oak forest, with a rather large Mother White Oak in the middle. The Scrub Oak trees are usually about one-hundred and fifty years old. They date back to the appearance of the Whiteman. The Whiteman didn’t burn out the scrub oaks like the Indians. Many ranchers continued to burn, but they saved the valley grasses for their cattle.



The Oak Gall, or “Oak Ball”, is actually a phenomenon in itself, one of natures great mysteries. The galls develop after the female Gall Wasp lays her eggs on the oak tree. What triggers the gall to form is largely unknown. Speculation says that it is chemical, mechanical, and viral triggers. The hatching larvae nourish themselves with the nutritive tissue of the galls as they form. They eventually get to be about one and one half, to two inches in diameter. The larvae live inside the ball where they are well-protected from external effects. The gall is not a fruit of the oak tree. The oak tree’s seed is an acorn. The galls only purpose is to host the Gall Wasp. When the wasp is mature it chews it’s way out and flies away. I have seen oak balls that are fully formed and look like Styrofoam inside, and I have seen smaller oak balls that are hollow inside like ping-pong balls. I'm not sure what they are. I have not found any experts on these "Bubble Balls" as we called them. I've wondered if they are just an oak ball with the insides eaten out. I don't know.



The White Oak is the only known plant that the "White Oak Caterpillar" lives on. The newcomers call it Bucculatrix Zophopasta. It's a cute little fuzzy striped worm that we collected by the jar full as children. Sorry that I can't find a photo of them as a caterpillar or a moth, but they are cute, and if you have been paying attention, you have seen them.




Puff Ball Mushroom:















The puffball Mushroom Is usually found in meadows and pastures around the Eel River valley and are quite common, indeed they are found in various forms, and found all over the world. The puffball is said to be edible, but they have also said that a young Deadly Aminita mushroon can look like a puffball. I've always said that only a fool would eat a puffball mushroom, so I've only eaten one. I got sick right after, and it scared the heck out of me. I'm sure it was just the flu, but what a fright! No more Mushroom experimenting for me!


The puffballs that we have around here are pure white, with pure white meat inside. The meat yellows as it ages and it eventually turns to a brown powder inside. When you kick one, it releases thousands or spores that fly away the grow new puffballs.


Two plants that look exactly the same but are totally different.

8 comments:

Ernie Branscomb said...

For those of you that think they saw this post before, they are right. I pulled it off, because what I know about the Laytonville Live oak was not jibing with what was being described as a "White Oak". I just decided to go with what I know and forget about what the books say. After all, this is a bullshistory blog. But, I think that there are at least three varieties of white oak in Laytonville. The black oak is a lot easier to identify.

USelaine said...

I think the tree next to my house is an Oregon White Oak. That's where the gall came from.

I ate a puffball once. I read that they are one of the safest, because you can eliminate the possibility of them being the poisonous one by slicing right down the center. If no little gills and stem is forming, and it's all clear white (you don't want one forming spores), then it's fine. It tasted great sauteed in butter. My only complaint was that it's hard to cut all the skin off a glob-shape like that, so you don't end up with very much mushroom to cook. It tasted very mushroomy, and I didn't get sick. I'd do it again if I could find a nice one.

Fred said...

I've heard puffballs can grow up to a foot in diameter. I've seen a few decent sized ones over the years, but never one that big.

Betsy Rose said...

Mr. Brancomb,
You have a writing style that draws me right in. While I, too, am a big puffball fan (saw my first as a child in Ontario's cottage country), I'd like to suggest a good Garry oak website that might interest you and your readers. It has lots of good information about removing unwanted plants and growing wildflowers. Please visit www.goert.ca.

Betsy Rose
Garry Oak Ecosystems Recovery Team (GOERT)
209 - 606 Courtney Street, Victoria, BC CANADA V8W 1B6
Tel: 250-383-3447 / Fax: 250.590.3410
finance@goert.ca
www.goert.ca

A lifeline for our rarest species.

Eel River Ernie said...

Ernie, in years past working for CDF you had to learn something about trees in order to promote even if you only put the wet stuff on the red stuff as a firefighter. The best resource I found for learning about trees and native plants comes from a book by George B. Sudworth “Forest Trees of the Pacific Slope.” From 1899 to 1904 Sudworth traveled the Pacific slope afoot, on horseback and by pack train detailing notes on range and occurrence of each specie and these records, supplemented by the observations of other scientists, were compiled into his work.

Sudworth lists sixteen (16) species in the Quercus (Oak) family: Valley, Brewer, Garry, Saddler, Blue, Alvord, Engleman, Engleman island oak, California scrub, California live, California black, Wislizenus, Price, Morehus and Tanbark*. All of these species are found in California or on the islands off of the coast of California.

*Although never known to lay people as anything but oak (Tanbark), for which the technical name Quercus stand, this tree has characters in its reproductive organs which technically permit its separation from all other oaks of the genus Quercus into another genus. It is a connecting link between the oaks and chestnuts. (from Sudworth notes – ERE)

Ernie Branscomb said...

Betsy Rose, I like that name! To make it easier for people to get to your website, I'm going to tell them to just click on your blue name. It is a very interesting web sight. It seems to me that we have a lot of Garry Oaks down here. Eel River Ernie would know, but he is being too polite to say whether I'm right or wrong. But, I have seen a lot of oak trees that have that little squarish acorn on them.

How about it ERE? Are the trees in Laytonville possibly a Garry Oak?

Eel River Ernie said...

Ernie, as you have already noted the acorn as the leading clue. Garry oak has a distinctive acorns are small compared to the valley oak and are sweet.

From Sudworth’s book: “Next to valley oak, Garry oak, known most commonly as “white oak” is the largest oak in the Pacific coast region.” Range: “Valleys and dry, gravelly slopes and table lands from Vancouver Island southward… into coast ranges of northern and central California; generally at elevations from near sea-level to 3,000 or 4,000 feet.”

“California – Northwest part, generally up to lower edge of yellow pine growth…extends southward in coast ranges sparingly to Sonoma County – possibly to Marin County… Locally noted as most south slopes and valleys of Trinity National Forest, such as Grouse Creek, on Humboldt Trail, near South Fork Mountains, at 2,500 feet in Rattlesnake Basin, at 3,800 feet, and creek bottom near Friends Ranch, at 3,700 feet.”

ben said...

Ernie... Eel River Ernie mentions Sudworth which is a wonderful book... It details the ranges of the trees and tells if they have commercial potential. White Oak (garryii) was used to make split fence posts. It is so water resistant that I know of a line of posts well over 100 years old. Solid as a rock. If you scrape the post you will see beautiful wood.
Puffballs go great with eggs. I pick small ones and don't skin them... just slice into the pan.