The valley oak pictured above — one of the larger oaks along Rocky Peak fire road — toppled over in the summer of 2016 following five years of drought.
Fire and drought are a natural part of the valley oak’s habitat and the trees have evolved to withstand ordinary variations in their environment. However, severe fires or extended droughts, or fire in combination with drought can overcome the tree’s defenses.
The drought may have been the culminating factor in the felling of this oak, but fire and other factors may have also played a role.
According to the Fire Effects Information System (FEIS), the heart-rot fungus Armillaria mellea is usually present in valley oaks and larger oaks tend to be hollow or rotten in the center. The toppled oak was hollow near its base and its interior appears to have been blackened by fire. The FEIS describes instances where the decaying wood in the interior of older valley oaks could ignite in a fire, but leave the exterior bark uncharred.
While much of the country shivers in the cold climes of Winter, the muted colors of the changing season have finally reached the lower elevation areas of Southern California.
In this area the leaves of Valley Oaks usually begin to turn around mid-December and the trees lose their leaves around the beginning of the new year. About a month and a half later trees begin to sprout new leaves, usually in mid to late February. From year to year the time frame can vary by as much as 2-3 weeks.
The photo of Valley Oak leaves was taken December 28, 2017 in Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve (formerly Ahmanson Ranch). This willow in East Las Virgenes Canyon was also showing some nice color.