Though the seasonal change in the Bay Area can be subtle, the change in daylight and the slight chill in the air signify a shift in routine for most of us, and the park nurseries are no different. This time of year the nurseries staff is rounding out the growing season, preparing the plants we’ve grown throughout the spring and summer for planting out into restoration sites during the winter rains.
Along with continuing to nurture the grown-out plants, the staff is also heeding the constant call of ripe seeds, ready for collection. One of the seeds our collection specialists are seeking out this time of year is that of our majestic native oaks, especially coast live oak (Quercus agrifolia)—in other words, they’re looking for acorns!
Our specialists head out to the park’s woodland areas to collect the acorns, keeping their eyes peeled for large green to golden brown seeds that can easily be removed from their caps (this indicates that they are ripe). Once back at the nursery, the acorns are put in a refrigerator to simulate winter; this process is known as stratification. After the two months in stratification the acorns are sown in December or January. Long, deep pots are used to allow for a strong root system to grow. The acorns will be nurtured and eventually grow to be trees large enough to outplant the following year.
Stewarding an area with such a rich, known cultural history, we can’t help but see a few parallels between our activities in the park and those of the native Ohlone tribes—especially when it comes to acorn collection. Acorns, especially those of the coast live oak, are one of the most important food sources for the Ohlone.
The nuts are collected by the women of the tribes and ground to a mash. According to Antonio M of the Costanoan Ohlone (from the Chitactac Village site area), to leach the tannic acid out of the fresh mash, it is sometimes placed on cedar boughs and put in a sand gully by a creek to allow fresh water to run through (nowadays it is not necessarily leached by a creek because of contamination risks and more modern techniques are utilized). The mash is tasted throughout this process to see if the bitterness of the tannic acid has been washed away.
After the leaching process, the mash is then cooked in cooking baskets with water and hot rocks, or made into a type of bread, baked in a clay oven. The Ohlone daily life was and still is dependent on the bounty of the land, and they recognized that management and stewardship of the land was and always will be an important element of ensuring its health. Plants were/are sometimes deliberately pruned, burned, and reseeded to encourage growth and fruit and seed production. These practices result in plentiful harvests and also plenty of food for hunted game to forage on. Many of these traditional practices and philosophies are kept alive by present-day Ohlone people. To learn more about Ohlone history and current traditions and events visit www.ohlonenation.org.
It is through caring and caretaking for our diverse parklands, in collaboration with Ohlone peoples, that we hope to support native fauna and maintain a healthy, diverse ecosystem for future generations to enjoy.
Written in collaboration with Antonio M., a Costanoan Ohlone from the Chitactac Village