Viewpoint - June 1, 2011

Guest opinion: 'Granny' heritage oak worthy of saving

by Carol Taggert

At 300 years of age, they call her "Granny." In truth, she is a healthy, robust middle-ager with others like her having been known to exceed 600 years.

She is a Valley oak, a tree endemic to California and the largest of all oak tree species in North America. Her height is 65 feet, with a spreading canopy of rich green foliage stretching 75 feet.

Within that canopy her topmost branches cradle a massive nest, possibly that of a hawk, which is partially camouflaged by thick healthy foliage and not easily seen without binoculars.

The diameter of her trunk is 60 inches with a circumference of 189 inches or nearly 16 feet. She resides on 15th Avenue, off Marsh Road, in Menlo Park.

A 2008 McClenahan arborist's report noted her condition to have "good vigor with normal shoot growth." A few old holes indicate possible nesting places for species such as the Acorn Woodpecker, a cavity nester. She provides safe nesting sites, food, and refuge for mammals and a myriad of bird species. On any early morning or evening one can see birds flying in and out of the tree.

How old is 300 years? The Pilgrims had arrived on our eastern shores only 80 or so years prior to when, as an infant, Granny sent her new tap roots deep into the soil. In her youth, at the age of almost 100 years, this country had a new president, and the Bill of Rights was adopted. California was admitted into The Union and gold was discovered when she was a mere 150 years old.

When she celebrated her approximate 200th birthday, Leland Stanford had settled in our area and the railroad connecting the east to the west was celebrated. During all this time, this oak had provided shade and a food source for the Ohlone Indians of our area.

Now, today there is talk of cutting this majestic oak down to simplify putting in a new back-up water system for the area's residents.

McClenahan Tree Service has suggested three workable options in order to save "Granny" and at the same time build the water system. With all the expertise and ingenuity in our area, I am sure we can preserve this magnificent specimen so that future generations will recall that people of today, living in difficult economic times, were willing to put the money and effort into saving this precious resource. Additionally, preservation gives the Water System Improvement Program of the SFPUC a great opportunity to set a precedent, proving they are responsible stewards of our environment.

This tree is reminiscent of the native old growth forest that thrived in this area for thousands of years. Today, it is a natural resource asset that belongs to the entire community, not just one neighborhood.

Carol Taggart lives on Valparaiso Avenue in Menlo Park.


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