What’s a Valley Oak?
Valley Oaks are the monarchs of California Oaks by virtue of their size, beauty and age. The largest trees have massive trunks, sometimes six or seven feet in diameter.
A few of these very old trees may be seen in Newhall and in Significant Ecological Area 64, the Valley Oak Savannah west of I-5. These old trees may rise more than 100 feet above the ground. shielded by thick gray bark the texture of alligator hide. The lobed, felt-covered leaves bud out in the spring to become in summer a kingdom of shade in a landscape drenched in hot, bright sun.
The trees require plenty of water and nutrients and thrive in habitats with deep, rich soil like that found in alluvial valleys such as Santa Clarita. Trees of only 150 to 250 years in age may become massive with trunk diameters of three or four feet where there are optimal growing conditions. However where growth is slower Valley Oaks are able to reach ages of 400 to 600 years if they can resist the ravages of fire, and, drought and disease. These are the monarchs, steadfast lords of the countryside, governing the landscapes in which they reside.
Valley Oaks have been given a variety of names over the years. The species reminded Spanish explorers of the majestic white oak of Europe and so the same name roble was applied.
Botanists were struck by the deeply sinuous outline of the leaves and so named the species lobata.
Valley Oak, the most popular common name, describes the trees’ tendency to be found in the fertile bottom land of alluvial valleys. Early settlers also dubbed them “weeping oaks” because older trees, especially in the absence of browsing cattle developed long, flowing vine-like twigs that drop almost to the ground.
Before extensive agricultural clearing began in the late 1880s, forests of Valley Oaks extended for miles on both sides of the Sacramento River and along the River reaches and its tributaries. Further south, oak stands thrived along the San Joaquin River and were common on floodplains that spilled from the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada. Our own Valley Oaks Savannah – consisting of about twelve hundred trees – is one of the most Southern stands and the last of its kind in the Santa Clarita Valley.
Valley Oaks have been the victims of widespread agricultural and residential development over the last 100 years. Where groundwater pumping has drastically lowered the water table, Valley Oaks have become slow growing and haggard
Groves such as S.E.A. #64 are extremely rare. For this reason in 1989 the California Senate passed Resolution #19 calling for voluntary protection of Valley Oaks. Both the County and of Los Angeles and the City of Santa Clarita have oak tree ordinances. But these are not well enforced and loopholes exist. This member of our regal oak heritage continues to diminish precipitously in number.