Valley oak is the grandest of oaks.

From the north end of the Sacramento Valley to the San Fernando Valley, the valley oak, Quercus lobata, is among the most familiar and distinctive of native oaks. It is the largest oak of North America, reaching more than a hundred feet tall with trunks as wide as ten feet, which is why it is rare in urban gardens. The hundred fifty foot tall ‘Henley Oak’ of Covelo is the tallest hardwood tree in North America. The oldest trees are about six centuries old.

The two or three inch long leaves have deep and round lobes. The foliage turns only dingy yellow and then brown in autumn, and can be messy as it continues to fall through early winter, particularly since the trees have such big canopies. The gnarly limbs are strikingly sculptural while bare through the rest of winter. The gray bark is evenly furrowed.

Incidentally, Oakland, Thousand Oaks, Paso Robles and various other communities within their range are named for valley oaks. (‘Roble’ is the Spanish name.)


4 thoughts on “Valley Oak

    1. It is less gnarly where it must compete with other trees, and height is a priority. Otherwise, it grows sufficiently tall while young, spreads out through middle age, and then spends a few centuries getting gnarly. It does not live in crowded forests, but instead lives as somewhat solitary trees in open chaparral valleys. Exposed trees develop broad canopies with limbs hanging to the ground for aerodynamics. Wind blows over them instead of through them. Coast live oaks use the same technique where they can, although they adapt to a broader range of ecosystems.


  1. What a beautiful oak! Its architecture reminds me of the evergreen Live oaks sometimes found in our area. the live oaks don’t grow so tall, but they are very long-lived and have the gnarly branches that often reach down towards the ground. What a wonder your valley oaks must be to find in an older, undisturbed landscape. I wonder what they would do in our climate? It looks like we are at the northern end of their range, but the climate is otherwise very different.

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    1. They might do well while young, but would not likely live for centuries like they do here. They can live in riparian situations here, but do not last as long as they do in drier situations. Those in the norther extremities of their natural range contend with a bit of snow, but can break apart if the snow falls on them while they are still foliated. They do not defoliate neatly in autumn, and may retain foliage well into winter, depending on the weather. It is really not a very interesting oak while young, which might be for the first century or so. The foliage is . . . plain. I do not know if it is really native here, since all of the big specimens seem to be on the edges of the main highway or other roads, as if planted. Trees that are not on roadsides are younger, as if they grew from seed from those that might have been planted. However, it is native to the Santa Clara Valley, just a few miles away. Sadly, the grandest of those in the Santa Clara Valley have succumbed to urban development and associated irrigation. Old trees are not adaptable.


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