Tanoak – Notholithocarpus densiflorus
Other Names: Lithocarpus densiflorus (previously known as), Tan oak, Tanbark-oak, Sovereign Oak, cíšqhale ("beautiful tree", Kashaya Pomo), xunyêep (Kurok).
Distinctive Characteristics: The evergreen Tanoak is the only species in this genus. However, they are often confused with true oaks (Quercus sp.) because of their similar name, and that they have acorns. Compared to other acorns, Tanoak's are distinctively light-colored, unshiny and woody, with a cap that is covered in short, bristle-like spines. While the two both belong to the Beech Family, Tanoak's flowers are more like those of its relatives, Chinquapins and Chestnuts. Its evergreen leaves make it easy to distinguish from an oak; they are long and elliptical, with chevron-patterned veins and serrated edges. Most often the leaves are 2–3 in. (5–7 cm) long, but under certain conditions they can reach up to 9 in (23 cm) long.
Distribution: Native to southwest Oregon through the California Coast Range to near Santa Barbara, with inland populations throughout the Siskiyou Mountains, and from the southern tip of the Cascade Range along the western slope of the Sierra Nevada to Yosemite National Park. Elevation: sea level to 8,000 ft. (2,438 m).
Ecosystem: Found in moist mixed evergreen forest communities, including Coast Live Oak, Coast Redwood, Madrone, Canyon Live Oak, Douglas Fir, Oregon White Oak, California Bay Laurel, Monterey Pine. At higher elevations in the Sierra Nevada, it is found with Red Fir, Knobcone Pine, and Port Orford Cedar. Typically associated with manzanita, hazelnut, Pacific rhododendron, huckleberry, and salal.
Maximum Age: 400 years.
Maximum Height and Girth: 150 ft. (45.7 m) in height; 28 ft. (8.5 m) in circumference. Can also grow as a shrub or a dwarf tree.
Animal Community: Tanoak trees provide habitat and food for many animals, including black bears, northern flying squirrels, California ground squirrels, Allen's chipmunks, dusky-footed wood rats, mice, mule deer, chipmunks, squirrels, raccoons, and foxes. Many birds seek food and shelter in these trees, such as woodpeckers, Steller's jays, northern flickers, nuthatches, wild turkey, and varied thrush chickadees.
Medicine: Acorns were sucked on to treat coughs (Kashaya Pomo). An infusion of the bark was used to wash face sores and as a toothache remedy (Costanoan, Ohlone).
Food: The acorns were historically a favorite staple food of California tribal groups, including the Pomo, Yurok, Coast Miwok, Miwok, Wappo, Ohlone, Shasta, Tolowa, Tavitam, Yuki, Tsnungwe, Hoopa (Hupa), Lassik, Esselen, Hahwunkwut, Karuk, Shasta, Mendocino Indians, Costanoan, Chumash, and Salinan. Acorn nutmeats were ground and leached before cooking, then roasted whole or prepared into porridge, paste, bread, or soup. The flour was stored for later use. Many edible mushrooms were collected on living and decaying trees.
Tools: The tannin-rich bark was used for dye (Costanoan and Tolowa). Oak saplings were used to make heavy-duty baskets.
Art and Ceremony: Strung acorns were made into a musical instrument (Kashaya Pomo). Dreams of Tanoak were considered a sign of good luck (Sinkyone). Acorn festivals and dances have been an important cultural practice.
Modern Uses: The bark was once the main commercial Western source of tannin for leather before modern chemicals replaced them (the tan in tanoak is for tannin), so the tree was over-exploited. Tanoak wood has been used for making railroad ties, cabinets, decking, plywood, flooring, veneer, paneling, tool handles, baseball bats, paper pulp, biofuel, and firewood. Acorn food continues to be import- ant for contemporary California Indians culturally, socially, and spiritually.
Threats and Conservation: Tanoak has been considered a weed, or trash tree, in forestry and has been the target of irradication by herbicides. It is also one of the species most severely devastated by sudden oak death (SOD), caused by the pathogen Phytophthora ramorum, indicated by black bleeding sores and brown leaf tips. Dying trees are left standing with completely dried foliage. It is believed by some that the death of trees from SOD is due to the modern lack of sacred cultural reliance on the acorn as a food source; the trees no longer feel needed. From an ecosystem management viewpoint, researchers have discovered that these trees have become more susceptible to pathogen epidemics due to the severe lack of wildfires and controlled burns—which were traditionally managed by native peoples—as well as the acidification of forests due to industrial pollution. Partnerships between tribes, universities, the US Forest Service, the National Park Service, and independent organizations have formed to manage Tanoak woodlands. Some trees are being treated via preventive measures, including re-mineralization of the soil and fire mimicry, while conservation easements are being created to preserve forested areas.