I’ve often said that every tree tells a story. Well, there’s a heritage oak in Encino, California that has a story to tell.
As most of you may know the live oaks and tan oaks of California are dying off in large numbers as a result of stresses brought about by decades of fire suppression. Oaks are fire-adapted trees, meaning they benefit from periodic fires. The lack of fire has weakened the oaks and created conditions that encourage the spread of diseases such as sudden oak death.
The live oaks and tan oaks, however, are not the only species of oaks that are suffering. Valley oaks (Quercus lobata), blue oaks (Q. douglasii), Oregon white oak (Q. garryana), and other species in the white oak subgroup are, in places, experiencing heavy die-off, yet are showing no signs of sudden oak death or bark beetle infestation. As it turns out the white oaks, too, are suffering from the effects of fire suppression. The good news is that these oaks, like the live oaks and tan oaks, are showing positive responses to fire mimicry treatments.
One of the largest oaks in Encino, California is situated next to the home of Robert and Lelia Maltzman. This heritage valley oak is estimated to be about 500 years old. In 2006 I examined the oak and found the soils to be somewhat acidic and the canopy of the tree was rather thin. Fire mimicry treatments involving healthy doses of calcium-rich AZOMITE minerals were then implemented and, three years later, the oak is showing some nice improvement in canopy health.
Below are photos of the Encino heritage oak showing the changes in canopy health three years post-treatment. Note the removal of one large limb for stress reduction. I was not involved in this limb removal and may have done it differently from an aesthetic perspective. But the arborist certainly had his reasons and after three years the tree seems to be faring well.
Here is an article describing this heritage oak that appeared in the Encino Sun in 2007.
Encino Sun (June 23, 2007)
Iconic oaks carry on Encino’s legacy
BY AMY LYONS
What would Encino be without oak trees? Well, since the word Encino means oak in Spanish, it’s simple: Encino wouldn’t be Encino were it not for her leafy inhabitants.
Though the most celebrated oak in Encino, the Lang Oak, has been dead for almost ten years, the tree is not forgotten. The Lang Oak had a trunk that was 24 feet in diameter and branches that reached a whopping 150 feet across. It stood on Louise Avenue, just south of Ventura Boulevard, and was declared a historical monument by the city in 1963. The demise of the 75-foot-tall tree occurred on February 7, 1998, when an El Nino storm knocked it down.
The Lang oak was thought to be 1,000 years old. Though losing the tree was tantamount to losing a piece of Encino history, there is another tree in town that appears to be approximately 500 years old, an impressive age for any oak. According to oak tree specialist Dr. Lee Klinger, oaks left in the wild and not tended to usually live a maximum of 100 to 200 years.
The aforementioned tree sits in the yard of Robert and Lelia Maltzman, who bought their home about two years ago. “We bought the house because of the tree,” Maltzman said. “My whole house was built around that tree.”
Though the couple has only lived in their Balboa Boulevard home for two years, they have a deep appreciation for the enormous old oak that predates their yard. A desire to know more about the tree lead them to Klinger, a Big Sur resident who has more than twenty years experience doing research for institutions like the University of Colorado and Oxford University in England. He now works to preserve trees and is often called upon to perform a special treatment on trees that mimics the sustaining effects of fire.
“The most important thing the Native Americans did to take care of trees was to use fire. They would burn the ground around a precious tree regularly. That kept shrubs and other competing growths away from a given tree,” Klinger said. “Also, one of the issues that all living systems have is aging. What goes hand and hand with aging is acidification—as soil ages, it becomes more acidic. So, fire creates ash and the ash neutralizes acid that would tend to build up in the soil. So nutrients become available. Fire increases soil fertility.”
Klinger has shown that treating the soil around an endangered tree is the key to maintaining its life and keeping it healthy. He uses a trace mineral treatment that has the same impact on trees as that of ash.
“I am improving the health of the trees by improving the health of the soil,” said Klinger, who uses all natural materials in his treatments. “Disease is not the problem; it is the soil, and the lack of fire. I am keeping alive the trees the way the Native Americans would have.”
Upon examining the Maltzmans’ oak, Klinger said it looks to be 500 years in age. “I can make a rough estimate based on other trees I’ve seen…my best guess is around 500 years. It could be several hundred years older, but not much younger.”
There are a couple of factors that tip Klinger off to the tree’s age. First, the branches provide a clue. “Instead of just one trunk that goes straight up, it has six or seven large branches that go in various directions near the base of the tree. That shape is the most efficient at maximizing fruit or nut production from a single tree,” Klinger said.
He went on to say he believes early Native Americans were pruning the tree in a special way so it would produce tasty acorns.
The most important thing Klinger tries to convey to his clients is the fact that oak trees cannot just be left alone – they need to have dead branches pruned and mineral fertilizers to sustain their iconic vitality.