California’s Live Oaks in Focus

The new exhibit explores the hidden network that allows heritage coast live oak trees to communicate with one another.

2 minute read

April 4, 2024, 8:00 AM PDT

By Clement Lau

Two large California live oaks in a field of dry grass.

Gary Peplow / Allen Park

Focusing on Descanso Gardens’ heritage coast live oaks (Quercus agrifolia)Trees Talk explores the hidden network that allows trees to communicate with one another. Some centuries old, the oaks are magnificent giants that can grow up to 100 feet tall and are what remains of a forest that once blanketed the region. This exhibition showcases touchable and interactive elements, drawing on actual wood taken from oaks that tragically fell during a severe storm last year. Visitors can also examine acorn sprouts that show how roots develop as an oak tree grows. Trees Talk is open at the Sturt Haaga Gallery from March 16 to June 2.

The coast live oak is known as a “keystone species,” meaning that the tree supports the existence of hundreds of other species, including mammals, birds, insects, fungi, plants, reptiles, and amphibians. The Tongva people were the first people to live on the land where Descanso Gardens is today. They relied on coast live oak acorns as one of their most important plant foods due to its high nutritional value, abundance, and versatility. Acorns remain sacred to the Tongva community and are a staple in traditional meals. The importance of the coast live oak in the interconnected web of life cannot be overstated.

Los Angeles County is home to numerous public gardens, including the 150-acre Descanso Gardens which is one of four botanic gardens and arboreta in the county's park system.  Development at the Gardens is guided by a Master Plan that was adopted by the L.A. County Board of Supervisors in 2020.  The Master Plan seeks to implement the mission of the Gardens, which is "to practice exemplary stewardship of Descanso’s distinctive character and assets; offer people an experience close to nature; and cultivate understanding of the natural world and people’s place in it through inspiration, education and example." 

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