Quercus tomentella, the Island Oak

I saw this California native oak at the Rancho Santa Botanical Garden on Saturday and was immediately both intrigued and baffled--intrigued because it is a gorgeous tree with beautiful foliage, baffled because I've never seen one before, and haven't heard much about it any time or anywhere. 

The leaves are a rounded off rectangle, wth just a slight prickled edge.  They have a low gloss and a deep rich dark olive color.  The growth habit is different from the spreading, tilting, meandering wide umbrella of Q. agrifolia as well--the growth habit of Q. tomentella is more possible for our small suburban gardens...it is upright and relatively narrow (20'-25'/6-7.5 m), meaning it will fit into gardens too small for Q. agrifolia.  Though it loves the fog drip of the Channel Islands, to which it is endemic, the specimen in much drier Claremont was thriving.

Where have you been all my gardening life, gorgeous?   I hear much more about Q. agrifolia--magnificent, no argument there--but it is not a species meant for all gardens.  Q. tomentella is one to consider.  Sorry it's not a great photo, but trust me, this tree is a beauty.  In the photo,  it's taller than the Q. agrifolia behind and to the right of it.  The narrowness of the growth habit can been seen in the tall crown...


Of course, it's still a considerable tree.  The genus Arctostaphylos offers significantly smaller, but still beautiful possibilities for the Southern California garden.  Deep wine-red bark and dainty white bell-shaped flowers in spring.

Arctostaphylos catalinae:

Artostaphylos glauca:


A common theme that ran through the native shrubs and trees in the botanical garden was the natural "limbed up" habit they eventually develop.  Moisture-challenged, they must discard their oldest and least productive foliage and sustain only the freshest. 


Thus over time the plants develop bare stems with a moderate amount of newish foliage and flowers only at the branch tips.   The most beautiful of these are the Artostaphyllos or manzanitas, and the Madrone, Arbutus menziesii, because of their deep wine-red bark.  The botanical garden contains many wonderful mature specimens, a few already in bloom due to our early October rain. 


  1. Love Rancho!


  2. That Catalina manzanita is wonderful. Truly they have some of the best bark around.


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