Dec 19, 2017

Three hundred years ago, to walk from the site of the modern-day Apple Campus in Cupertino to the bayshore site of the modern-day Google headquarters in Mountain View would take about four hours. You would start in an oak savanna at Calabazas Creek on the west edge of Tamien Ohlone tribal lands, walk west through oak woodland and chaparral to Stevens Creek, then turn north to follow the waterway through oak woodland and oak savanna, until the water fanned out into willow woodlands and the lazy water of the South Bay near the Ramaytush Ohlone village of Puichon.

In the entire Silicon Valley you would have encountered fewer than 20 species of tree. Lord among them would have been the oak. As recently as a 1850, according to a recent report from the San Francisco Estuary Institute, 80 percent of the trees in Palo Alto, Mountain View and Cupertino were oak trees. Another 13 percent of the trees were those commonly found alongside oak trees in oak woodlands: buckeye, madrone, sycamore, and California bay laurel. Willows, alders, and redwoods rounded out the final 7 percent.

Oaks created the place. Postcards from San Jose in the early 1900s show farmers standing in the shade of skyscraping oak trees. Spanish explorers called Silicon Valley the “plain of the oaks.” The Peninsula is still home to two Roblar Avenues, a Robles Drive, and a Robles Park, as well as the North Fair Oaks and Menlo Oaks neighborhoods of Menlo Park.

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Eric Simons
Programs and Focus Areas: 
Resilient Landscapes Program
Historical Ecology
Terrestrial Ecology
Urban Nature Lab