Anchor ads are not supported on this page.

4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs

Escondido man gathered 2500 Engelmann acorns this year

Jim Crouch follows in footsteps of Frances Ryan

The rare, endangered oaks form especially complex and twisted canopies.
The rare, endangered oaks form especially complex and twisted canopies.

It’s the rarest oak species in the U.S., it’s endangered, and 93 percent live right here in San Diego. In the 1840s German doctor George Engelmann, studying plants along the U.S.-Mexico border, noticed some distinctions in oaks he saw growing only in the foothills: they had stubbier, browner acorns and smooth-edged, grayish-tinted leaves, not the jagged green of the more widely distributed coast live oak. And the branches of these mid-elevation oaks, others noted, formed more complex and twisted canopies. Botanists later officially named the Engelmann oak, which indigenous inhabitants already knew as a prodigious sweet acorn producer. A storied grove of over 400 Engelmann oaks just north of Escondido named La Huerta by the Spanish was a summer acorn-gathering place until the trees were cut down to make way for citrus in the late 1880s. 

In 2023 the relatively few Engelmann oaks scattered around the foothills of San Diego County had a “mast” year: each tree produced thousands of acorns. Before the acorns got squirreled away or had time to rot on the ground (which most do, only a few will sprout) retired Valley Center Middle School teacher Jim Crouch sprang into action. He distributed flyers in a few neighborhoods, near his Escondido home, where magnificent Engelmanns grow—like Treeside Drive in Hidden Meadows—saying roughly, “Hey, I like your oaks, can I collect your acorns?” After a few years collecting and sprouting other types of oaks, he had a pretty good idea where to look.

Engelmann oak on Santa Ysabel cattle ranch.

Wielding buckets and the good grace of homeowners to enter private property, Crouch and a few volunteers hurried to collect thousands of Engelmann acorns from Escondido, Ramona, and a cattle ranch in Santa Ysabel.  300 came from Santa Ysabel Open Space Preserve, where Engelmanns overhang the parking lot. Crouch is now sprouting and distributing the precious seedlings—with healthy tap roots—to folks with enough room to plant them, at the right elevations. 

Engelmann oaks have a very limited range: from northern Baja to southern Los Angeles County, and only at elevations from 1200’-4200’. The U.S. Forest Service reported that significant stands survive at Camp Pendleton and on the Santa Rosa Plateau near Murrieta, and there’s a historic grove at L.A. Botanical Garden. Daley Ranch has an Engelmann Oak trail. Crouch said Engelmanns survive on reservations in San Diego County, such as La Jolla Indian Reservation, which happen to be at the right elevation. Development has encroached on most of the tree’s habitat—the low foothills and mesas where the trees thrive are ideal for homebuilding. Crouch has heard there’s a big stand north of I-210 in LA County; indeed, the tree is also known as Pasadena oak.

Another Engelmann distinction: it’s impervious to the gold-spotted oak borer, which spreads a fungus that has killed scores of coast live oaks in San Diego County and beyond. Crouch uses that as a “selling point” when convincing homeowners and land keepers to plant Engelmanns—though the polyphagous shot hole borer, which does affect Engelmanns, has recently been detected in San Diego. 

Sponsored
Sponsored
Jim Crouch, seen here with oak seedling pot, is doing the work for his grandkids.


Crouch does this work “for his grandkids,” he said. Oaks are a keystone species: they support more life forms than any other North American tree genus. When he started, he didn’t know much about his predecessor, the Oak Lady of Escondido, who was born in 1901 and lived next to a huge old Engelmann oak most of her life. She called the tree Quella. Frances Ryan worked to preserve Engelmanns in San Diego County—though, she told Gordon Smith at the Reader in 1986, it was her father, before she was born, who cut down the 400 at La Huerta to make way for his boss’s new orchard. 

Ryan planted Engelmann seedlings around her family home, near La Huerta, and throughout the hills of North County. In 1989 a wildfire claimed many of the old oaks on her property, after the University of California reneged on a promise to create an Engelmann oak preserve there. Quella survived the fire. Frances Ryan died in 1990. Crouch’s granddaughter plays soccer at the Escondido park named after her—”it has great old oaks,” he said, “but sadly no Engelmanns.” 


Crouch has about 2500 Engelmann acorns this year. He estimates about 50 percent will sprout, in his backyard in rows of narrow, conical tree pots, lovingly watered with rainwater he collects. He’s pretty sure they will all find homes. Volcan Mountain preserve might take up to 1000, and through Facebook and other connections he has developed a long list of home- and landowners willing to plant in Julian, Escondido, Ramona, San Marcos, Vista, Descanso, Jamul, La Cresta, and more. A friend at Pala, who Crouch said “plants carefully” and enlists neighbors to water when he travels, asked for 100. Requirements for adoption: a large tract of land at 1200’-4200’ and irrigation for two years while the sapling gets established. Plant in January for lower elevations, near the spring equinox for higher country. Engelmanns can survive drought, but it’s not clear how climate change is affecting the species. The San Diego Zoo and Wildlife Alliance cryogenically preserved DNA from Engelmann seedlings Crouch sprouted. Contact [email protected]

The latest copy of the Reader

Please enjoy this clickable Reader flipbook. Linked text and ads are flash-highlighted in blue for your convenience. To enhance your viewing, please open full screen mode by clicking the icon on the far right of the black flipbook toolbar.

Here's something you might be interested in.
Submit a free classified
or view all
Previous article

Shorebirds active in local tidal zones, full buck moon on Sunday

Extreme high tides this weekend, perfect for grunion grabbing
Next Article

Jakob Nowell takes up his father’s role as Sublime frontman

New lineup will perform at Bayfest on July 20
The rare, endangered oaks form especially complex and twisted canopies.
The rare, endangered oaks form especially complex and twisted canopies.

It’s the rarest oak species in the U.S., it’s endangered, and 93 percent live right here in San Diego. In the 1840s German doctor George Engelmann, studying plants along the U.S.-Mexico border, noticed some distinctions in oaks he saw growing only in the foothills: they had stubbier, browner acorns and smooth-edged, grayish-tinted leaves, not the jagged green of the more widely distributed coast live oak. And the branches of these mid-elevation oaks, others noted, formed more complex and twisted canopies. Botanists later officially named the Engelmann oak, which indigenous inhabitants already knew as a prodigious sweet acorn producer. A storied grove of over 400 Engelmann oaks just north of Escondido named La Huerta by the Spanish was a summer acorn-gathering place until the trees were cut down to make way for citrus in the late 1880s. 

In 2023 the relatively few Engelmann oaks scattered around the foothills of San Diego County had a “mast” year: each tree produced thousands of acorns. Before the acorns got squirreled away or had time to rot on the ground (which most do, only a few will sprout) retired Valley Center Middle School teacher Jim Crouch sprang into action. He distributed flyers in a few neighborhoods, near his Escondido home, where magnificent Engelmanns grow—like Treeside Drive in Hidden Meadows—saying roughly, “Hey, I like your oaks, can I collect your acorns?” After a few years collecting and sprouting other types of oaks, he had a pretty good idea where to look.

Engelmann oak on Santa Ysabel cattle ranch.

Wielding buckets and the good grace of homeowners to enter private property, Crouch and a few volunteers hurried to collect thousands of Engelmann acorns from Escondido, Ramona, and a cattle ranch in Santa Ysabel.  300 came from Santa Ysabel Open Space Preserve, where Engelmanns overhang the parking lot. Crouch is now sprouting and distributing the precious seedlings—with healthy tap roots—to folks with enough room to plant them, at the right elevations. 

Engelmann oaks have a very limited range: from northern Baja to southern Los Angeles County, and only at elevations from 1200’-4200’. The U.S. Forest Service reported that significant stands survive at Camp Pendleton and on the Santa Rosa Plateau near Murrieta, and there’s a historic grove at L.A. Botanical Garden. Daley Ranch has an Engelmann Oak trail. Crouch said Engelmanns survive on reservations in San Diego County, such as La Jolla Indian Reservation, which happen to be at the right elevation. Development has encroached on most of the tree’s habitat—the low foothills and mesas where the trees thrive are ideal for homebuilding. Crouch has heard there’s a big stand north of I-210 in LA County; indeed, the tree is also known as Pasadena oak.

Another Engelmann distinction: it’s impervious to the gold-spotted oak borer, which spreads a fungus that has killed scores of coast live oaks in San Diego County and beyond. Crouch uses that as a “selling point” when convincing homeowners and land keepers to plant Engelmanns—though the polyphagous shot hole borer, which does affect Engelmanns, has recently been detected in San Diego. 

Sponsored
Sponsored
Jim Crouch, seen here with oak seedling pot, is doing the work for his grandkids.


Crouch does this work “for his grandkids,” he said. Oaks are a keystone species: they support more life forms than any other North American tree genus. When he started, he didn’t know much about his predecessor, the Oak Lady of Escondido, who was born in 1901 and lived next to a huge old Engelmann oak most of her life. She called the tree Quella. Frances Ryan worked to preserve Engelmanns in San Diego County—though, she told Gordon Smith at the Reader in 1986, it was her father, before she was born, who cut down the 400 at La Huerta to make way for his boss’s new orchard. 

Ryan planted Engelmann seedlings around her family home, near La Huerta, and throughout the hills of North County. In 1989 a wildfire claimed many of the old oaks on her property, after the University of California reneged on a promise to create an Engelmann oak preserve there. Quella survived the fire. Frances Ryan died in 1990. Crouch’s granddaughter plays soccer at the Escondido park named after her—”it has great old oaks,” he said, “but sadly no Engelmanns.” 


Crouch has about 2500 Engelmann acorns this year. He estimates about 50 percent will sprout, in his backyard in rows of narrow, conical tree pots, lovingly watered with rainwater he collects. He’s pretty sure they will all find homes. Volcan Mountain preserve might take up to 1000, and through Facebook and other connections he has developed a long list of home- and landowners willing to plant in Julian, Escondido, Ramona, San Marcos, Vista, Descanso, Jamul, La Cresta, and more. A friend at Pala, who Crouch said “plants carefully” and enlists neighbors to water when he travels, asked for 100. Requirements for adoption: a large tract of land at 1200’-4200’ and irrigation for two years while the sapling gets established. Plant in January for lower elevations, near the spring equinox for higher country. Engelmanns can survive drought, but it’s not clear how climate change is affecting the species. The San Diego Zoo and Wildlife Alliance cryogenically preserved DNA from Engelmann seedlings Crouch sprouted. Contact [email protected]

Comments
Sponsored

The latest copy of the Reader

Please enjoy this clickable Reader flipbook. Linked text and ads are flash-highlighted in blue for your convenience. To enhance your viewing, please open full screen mode by clicking the icon on the far right of the black flipbook toolbar.

Here's something you might be interested in.
Submit a free classified
or view all
Previous article

Peter King lives a cell-free life

The art of conversation “has most definitely gone downhill.”
Next Article

A taste of America on the other side of the world

Diner’s owners once drove Route 66
Comments
Ask a Hipster — Advice you didn't know you needed Big Screen — Movie commentary Blurt — Music's inside track Booze News — San Diego spirits Classical Music — Immortal beauty Classifieds — Free and easy Cover Stories — Front-page features Drinks All Around — Bartenders' drink recipes Excerpts — Literary and spiritual excerpts Feast! — Food & drink reviews Feature Stories — Local news & stories Fishing Report — What’s getting hooked from ship and shore From the Archives — Spotlight on the past Golden Dreams — Talk of the town The Gonzo Report — Making the musical scene, or at least reporting from it Letters — Our inbox Movies@Home — Local movie buffs share favorites Movie Reviews — Our critics' picks and pans Musician Interviews — Up close with local artists Neighborhood News from Stringers — Hyperlocal news News Ticker — News & politics Obermeyer — San Diego politics illustrated Outdoors — Weekly changes in flora and fauna Overheard in San Diego — Eavesdropping illustrated Poetry — The old and the new Reader Travel — Travel section built by travelers Reading — The hunt for intellectuals Roam-O-Rama — SoCal's best hiking/biking trails San Diego Beer — Inside San Diego suds SD on the QT — Almost factual news Sheep and Goats — Places of worship Special Issues — The best of Street Style — San Diego streets have style Surf Diego — Real stories from those braving the waves Theater — On stage in San Diego this week Tin Fork — Silver spoon alternative Under the Radar — Matt Potter's undercover work Unforgettable — Long-ago San Diego Unreal Estate — San Diego's priciest pads Your Week — Daily event picks
4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
Close

Anchor ads are not supported on this page.