Tag Archives: oaks

into the tunnels

The morning opened overcast, foggy, even. You couldn’t ask for a more appropriate day to visit the mysteries of the area the locals call The Tunnels. The location is currently closed to public access until a plan for trails and managmenet is finalized, but I got to tag along on a trip organized by the local California Native Plant Society chapter.

To get to the tunnels you pass a mesa top with blooming chamise, Adenostoma fasciculatum.

More blooming chamise. It’s a signature plant of this chaparral habitat.

Disappearing into the trees: This is the fun-slash-magic part of visiting The Tunnels.

The scrub oak scrub deep in The Tunnels is made up of Quercus dumosa and Q. berberdifolia and towers over you–ten, fifteen feet, even more in spots. Trip leader Frank was calling this old-growth chaparral, an environment so old and established that you can’t tell its age, meaning this area hasn’t burned intensely in many decades or even centuries. In old-growth chaparral you’ll find plants of all ages and stages of life, not just a uniform cohort of seedlings starting over after a fire. Seeing how rich this area is, you can begin to understand how big a lie it is when people insist that fire is essential to maintaining the health environments like this.

Acorns on the scrub oaks.

And before you get acorns the oaks must bloom…

Inside the Hobbit World. Giant scrub oak branches overhead, lots of it with lichen attached.

Did someone say “lichen?”

More branches with lichen.

Even more lichen, close up. I never get tired looking at the stuff.

No Hobbits so far, but wood rats had set up this nest overhead. Strange. They usually nest closer to the ground.

Below there was a diverse understory of plants, rare or common or weedy. This is the common wood fern, Dryopteris arguta.

In the weedy category is this new annoying non-native, bur chervil, Anthriscus caucalis.

One of the cooler understory plants, miner’s lettuce. The species here is Claytonia parviflora.

Toxicoscordon fremontii sounds like a scary plant–so does one of its common names of Death Camas–perfect for this netherworld. Yes, the plant, particularly the bulb, is poisonous.

The buds of Fremont’s star lily. Actually it’s the same species as the death camas I just showed you, only this is its prettier name.

Melic grass, Melica imperfecta, thriving in the shade of The Tunnels.

Another of the understory plants here: early onion, Allium praecox.

Another understoy plant: western dichondra, Dichondra occidentalis. I get dichondra popping up in my garden at home. At first I got excited since D. occidentalisis a rare plant. But then I realized he plant in my garden was a relic of the dichondra species (D. micrantha) used as a lawn substitute in the well-watered suburbia of days gone by.

Yet another denizen of the shade, the pretty prolific and common Eucrypta chrysanthemifolia.

So… what other wonders do you think you’ll find in this magical underground world? How about an abandoned pot farm?

Actually, when I look at this hillside, I don’t really see a pot farm, but I’m assured that there used to be one here. There are little telltale signs, like little basins dug into the slope to retain moisture.

On the way out, back on the mesa top you see sights like this: branches of the chamise, with golden yarrow (Eriophyllum confertiflorum) blooming inside them.

Also up on the mesa is this, Adolphia californica, a plant listed as endangered in California, though it’s common elsewhere (Mexico). San Diego County is the only place in California that you’ll find it.

Mine was a group of people dedicated to leaving a place as pristine or even more so than when you experienced it. Here’s one of the bags people had going of assorted artifacts left by previous visitors (and inhabitants, apparently). Shoes, bottles, wrappers–nothing transcendentally weird this time.


The fallen eucalyptusI was heading back to my desk at work on Thursday and noticed a cluster of my coworkers looking out a window. There’s a little access road right outside. Usually it doesn’t have a full-grown eucalyptus tree fallen across it, but this day it did.

Trunk of fallen treeI don’t have my camera with me most of the time, but Declan had his. He was part of the volunteer crew who wrestled the tree to the curb, but he also managed take these shots.

[ View the entire set on Flikr ]

Not much later the building’s safety person had issued a warning:

Just a heads-up, literally: high winds are blowing down eucalyptus branches and trees around campus. About an hour ago, an entire tree broke off and fell across the access road… (Very fortunately, no people or vehicles were in its path.) Until the winds die down, please be sure to watch and listen for breaking branches and avoid walking through the eucalyptus groves.

The UCSD campus is home to over 200 thousand of these trees in plantings that date back a hundred years, back to a eucalyptus mania when eucalyptus were planted all over Southern California, including three million just a few miles up the coast in what’s now Rancho Santa Fe.

If you live in this part of the state you’ve probably heard the stories: that the trees are call widowmakers because they drop their branches if you look at them wrong, that they’re just giant non-native weeds that take up valuable space…bad things like that.

I wonder if the bad rap on the first count is entirely deserved. For sure, some eucalyptus are brittle, and there have been three times in the last year alone when I was within fifty feet or thirty seconds of being taken out by falling eucalyptus. But with almost a quarter million of them on campus and millions of them in town it’s inevitable that a few of them keel over or fall apart. Are they that much worse than oaks or other trees that people plant by the millions?

I did a quick and totally informal survey of some headlines, eucalyptus versus oaks. Maybe the eucs are totally bad news. May they’re not that much worse than other species. Whatever the case, they definitely can be gorgeous trees.

Shadows cast over towering eucalyptuses (Eucalypturs kills woman in Old Town San Diego, The San Diego Union-Tribune–January 8, 2003)

2 killed in ‘freak accident’ : Falling oak crushes pickup on County Line Rd. (Oak tree, The Post and Courier (Charleston, N.C.)–April 16, 2008)

Tree check asked after accident (Eucalyptus kills woman in parked pickup truck, Evening Tribune (San Diego, CA)–December 25, 1987)

Man killed by falling tree (Oak tree falls onto pickup truck, News Sentinel, (Knoxville, TN) December 28, 2008)

$160,000 awarded in Zoo death (Award given to family of girl killed by falling eucalyptus, The San Diego Union–August 2, 1986)

Girl killed by falling tree at Boy Scout camp (Oak tree, Associated Press, via MSNBC–August 10, 2005)

Half of the incidents above involved pickup trucks. Weird. Maybe that’s the deadly combination: pickup trucks and large trees. Like mobile homes and tornadoes…