Coast live oak trees

Trees and Fungi on Campus

2 mins read

Though we all spend many hours a day on campus, it’s easy to miss the small details and elements that make our physical school environment so pleasant. Often, walking from class to class, it can be challenging to absorb the trees, mushrooms, and other life that blooms around campus.

Near the S-wing grow two massive, sprawling valley oaks (quercus lobata) that provide shade for students and homes for squirrels. These wooden giants are a native species to California, producing sweet and edible acorns that were roasted and ground up by the Paiute people to make baking flour. This species is the largest oak in the state and can live up to 600 years.

Sprawling valley oak trees

In the F-wing courtyard grows a pair of coast live oaks (quercus agrifolia). These trees are also a native species and have a rich relationship with the ecosystem. They are the exclusive source of nutrition for the California oak moth caterpillars, which, in turn, provide fertilizer for the tree. This species is also a favorite of acorn woodpeckers, who store their acorns in the trunks of live oaks. 

Coast live oak trees

In addition to ecology, coast live oaks have also been highly important to historical peoples. As with the valley oaks, certain Native American peoples roasted and ground up the acorns of this tree to create a meal for baking bread. The wood of the coast live oak has also historically been used for charcoal (which was then used to various degrees in baking, gunpowder, electrical infrastructure, and as fuel for adobe kilns). The knobby, twisting limbs of the tree also made it sought after by some shipbuilders who needed the jagged shape for special joints.

Occasionally, honey mushrooms (armillaria mellea) can be spotted sprouting from the ground near trees in the E-wing. This fungus infects the roots of woody plants, initially attacking the tissues that generate bark and wood, but if unchecked, will spread to the main stem and potentially kill the entire tree. Though this fungus sounds brutal, it is actually edible for humans and has a long history of use in Native American tribes.

Honey mushrooms

Further in the realm of fungi, Wood Chip Morel (morchella rufobrunnea) can also be found on campus in autumn. These small mushrooms tend to appear alone or in clusters in disturbed soil or piles of wood chips (hence the name). The species is supposedly not the tastiest morel, but it is edible* when prepared properly.

These few specimens and their impact on our campus goes largely unnoticed. We may appreciate the shade of a tree or how lucky we are to have so much greenery at school (as we should), but the complex and unique ecology and history of the plants that live on campus is seldomly praised. Ultimately, the plant life on campus makes the school environment much more pleasant to inhabit throughout the year. As APES teacher Erica Woll said, “M-A has a very pretty campus… There’s lots of little details that I think a lot of schools don’t have.”

*Never eat any plant or fungus that you cannot positively identify.

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