26" x 20"
San Diego County, California, United States
My wife and daughter and I had a snack while sitting on the big branch that was resting on the ground in this painting. It was a perfect picnic bench. California live oaks trees spread out twice as wide as their height and their limbs often touch the ground. I examined the branch carefully but could see no evidence that it was rooting in the ground. I’m not even sure that it was resting on the ground. One of the characteristics of Oaks is their formidable strength. Their limbs defy gravity, stretching out horizontally without bending. Rooting branches would be one of those interesting characteristics that I would like to have told in my story about the painting. I looked for rooting because I had seen willow trees root where their drooping branches touch the ground. I have also seen the champions of all branch rooters, the fig trees of the Deep South. They don’t even wait for a branch to touch the ground. Branches high above the ground will send down aerial roots, which form new trunks. In this manner a single tree can creep over an entire football field.
The low growth habit of the Live Oaks is a response to life in a semi arid region. A compact form helps preserve moisture. The grass surrounding the tree attests to this extreme dryness. For a few months after the rains, usually around February, the grass is green. After that it turns those beautiful shades of yellow and orange that are seen from the highways of Southern California. By the way, although the grass looks soft from a distance, it is not. It is very stiff under foot. You don’t go barefoot there. And if the grass won’t make you put your boots on, the leaves will. The leaves of the Coast Live Oak are rolled under with prickly spines on the edges. I enjoyed walking with my boots under the oak. It felt like walking on crispy corn flakes. But with bare feet you would notice that the flakes had teeth.
I painted this picture before I knew much about California flora. I knew it was a “live oak”, meaning “evergreen”, but at that time I didn’t know which one. In retrospect it could be either an Interior or Coast Live Oak. I would guess it is a Coast Live Oak because Interior Live Oaks are, as their name implies, further inland.
Plants that are naturally associated with oaks like these grasses (including the dead oak leaves) are necessary to the health of the oaks. Homeowners who have surrounded their oak trees with heavy mulch, planted petunias and pansies, then fertilized and watered them well, have killed the trees. Research has revealed that diseased trees with a near leafless canopy come back to health by controlling the weeds, lawns, or petunias. These kinds of healthy associations among plants are one of the reasons I like to paint plants in their natural habitat.
The Coast Live Oak (Quercus agrifolia) is named after their characteristic prickly leaves. The botanical name literally means "sharp-leaved oak". It may be found in the coastal areas of California from Sonoma County down to Baja California in Mexico. This one lives in San Diego County.