Oregon

P90310KIf California is the most excellent state in the entire Unites States of America and surrounding Universe, and Oklahoma is the second most excellent, then Oregon might be number . . . hmmm . . . fourteen or fifteen . . . or maybe like twenty or something. However, in MY (very important) opinion, Oregon is like the third most excellent state, and almost ties with Oklahoma! That makes it even slightly more excellent than Pennsylvania, Vermont and Arizona! Yes, it is THAT excellent!
Even the state tree of Oregon is excellent. It is the Douglas fir, pseudotsuga menziesii. That is like the second most excellent of the state trees, right after the coastal redwood of California. If California did not claim the coastal redwood as the state tree, Oregon is the only other state that can claim it as a native, since the native range of coastal redwood extends ever so slightly into the very southwest corner of Oregon.
There was a time when redwood was the main timber tree here, but that was only because it was the most readily available. As the supply was depleted, it was reserved for fences, decks, structural lumber that is in contact with concrete foundations, or any other situation in which its innate resistance to decay was important. Douglas fir became the most common lumber, and is still what homes are built from now.
Besides all that, Douglas fir is one of the grandest of trees in North America.
Then there is the state flower of Oregon. Well, it is not so much to brag about, although it is still better than the state flower of Oklahoma, which happens to be mistletoe. (Okay, that is another subject for later.)
Oregon grape, Mahonia aquifolium, blooms late in winter with these bright golden yellow, but otherwise unimpressive flowers. The few small black berries that develop over summer are mostly taken by birds before anyone notices. The glossy and prickly dark green foliage is quite appealing, and happens to do well in partial shade, but this is the state flower, not the state foliage.

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Big Trees

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They are the biggest. Giant redwoods are revered for their age and size. It was not always like that.
Many of the biggest giant redwoods were killed merely for bragging rights. Whoever discovered the biggest got to arrange to get it cut down, and then pose on the stump for photographs. Some trees were cut down just so the rings could be counted. Many felled trees were just left to rot where they fell. It was not practical to transport the lumber out of the remote regions of the Sierra Nevada where the trees lived. That was at a time when ‘sportsmen’ shot from trains into herds of wild buffalo, only to pose with the biggest dead carcass they could find in the aftermath, and then leave all of the deceased to rot on the prairie.
So, at about the same time in history that the related coastal redwood was being harvested so indiscriminately for lumber, the biggest of the giant redwoods were killed primarily for sport. Even in regions from which lumber could have been transported from, no one could figure out how to get such massive giant redwoods onto the ground without fracturing the lumber within. Because their wood is so brittle, smaller giant redwoods that were harvestable were simply cut and split into shakes, grape stakes, and fence posts and rails. Young and healthy specimens of the biggest trees in the World were used for the smallest and most unglamorous forms of lumber.
The biggest of the giant redwoods are of course protected now, mostly within national parks. They are quite accessible to those who want to visit and admire them. I got this picture with one of my esteemed colleagues in front of the General Sherman tree in wintertime back in the early 2000s.

Kitty City

P80124Los Gatos is named after bobcats. More specifically, it is named after an interchange that was named after bobcats; La Rinconada De Los Gatos. There are a few theories about how and why it was named after bobcats. The most popularly accepted theory involved the remarkably violent demise of everyone involved, leaving no one to document it as accurately is it has been repeated for generations. Don’t question it if you ever hear it. It is quite entertaining. I prefer to think that we do not need an elaborate excuse for naming our town after native wildlife. The bobcats were here. People noticed them. BINGO – La Rinconada De Los Gatos.

Regardless and contrary to what my colleague Brent would tell you, ‘Los Gatos’ does not mean ‘The Ghettos’ in Spanish.

Other towns in California have horticultural names. Some are named for horticultural commodities that were grown there. Others are named for native flora. Some are named after native flora that was harvested as a horticultural commodity!

Apple Valley, Citrus Heights, Greenfield, Lemon Grove, Orange, Orange Cove, Prunedale, Rosemead, Roseville and Wheatland might have been named after what was grown there commercially, although Orange was probably a recycled name from somewhere else. Calabasas is a Spanish name for pumpkins that were grown there. Hesperia is derived from citrus.

Del Rey Oaks, Live Oak, Oakdale, Oakland, Oakley and Thousand Oaks were probably named for the native oaks that grew there naturally. Paso Robles was named El Paso De Los Robles, and Roble is the Spanish name for the valley oak. Encino is the Spanish name for coast live oak, and a few small ones are Encinitas.

La Palma, Palm Desert, Palm Springs, Palmdale and Twenty Nine Palms are obviously named for palms, both the native desert palm and exotic palms. Yucca Valley is of course named for the native specie of yucca. Cypress, Hawthorne, Palos Verdes Estates, Rancho Palos Verdes, Walnut, Walnut Creek, Willow Glen and Willows should be easy to figure out, although some are not as obvious as they would seem to be.

Redwood City was probably named for the mills that processed redwood lumber there, rather than the trees.; just like Mill Valley. Madera translates into wood; and Corte Madera is a place to cut wood. Palo Alto translates to something like ‘high stick’, but was really derived from a tired old redwood tree with a dead top. Fresno translates into ash tree.

Bell Gardens, Bellflowers, Cloverdale, Elk Grove, Ferndale, Garden Grove, Gardena, Grass Valley, Hawaiian Gardens, Laguna Woods, Lake Forest, Larkspur, Lawndale, Pacific Grove, Tulelake, Woodland, Woodlake and Woodside are open to interpretation. Then there is Weed. After all, this is California.

Douglas Fir

80103Even those of us who live nowhere near its natural range live closer to Douglas fir, Pseudotsuga menziesii, than we realize. Most of our homes are constructed from Douglas fir lumber. Although very uncommon in landscaped gardens, Douglas fir is the most popular Christmas tree here. Trees introduced for timber have naturalized in parts of Europe, Argentina, Chile and New Zealand.

It is such a grand evergreen conifer that Oregon designated it as the state tree. The tallest trees in the wild are more than three hundred feet tall! Trees that do not compete within a forest do not get even a quarter as tall. The flattened needles are less than an inch and a half long, and arranged on opposite sides of the stems. Light brown female cones with jagged bracts hang downward.

Douglas fir is a native of the West Coast between about the middle of British Columbia to the North, and the Santa Lucia Mountains and the Northern Sierra Nevada to the South, with a few small colonies beyond. Rocky Mountain Douglas fir is another variety from farther inland. Because it is so big and structurally deficient, Douglas fir is almost never planted into landscapes intentionally.