Heritage oak stands tall
A VALLEY OAK at the site of the Pauline Bond house on Seventh Street East is between 400 and 500 years old.
The towering and sprawling valley oak near the site where the Bond house formerly stood in Sonoma Garden Park is 400 to 500 years old according to Richard Dale, the executive director of the Sonoma Ecology Center (which runs the park).
“It’s as old a tree as I’ve seen in Sonoma Valley,” said Dale. The heritage oak predates the raising of the Bear Flag, and the arrival of Gen. Vallejo; in fact, the oak was there long before the arrival of any European settlers.
Valley oaks (quercus lobata) are certainly the largest species of oak we have in Northern California, and by many measures, according to Dale, “the most magnificent.” Dale calls the 80-plus-foot-tall tree at the Bond house location “a legacy for Sonoma Valley,” but laments that “most of us don’t know it’s even there.”
The tree provides homes to bees (there’s more than one hive among its branches) and several birds, including raptors, that nest in it.
The tree now dominates a plot it had previously shared with the home once occupied by Pauline Bond, who donated the land to the city in 1971, and a barn. Both the barn and the house were demolished in November due to prohibitive maintenance costs. There are plans in the future to incorporate the area into the garden proper, said Dale, and to protect the tree with a wooden fence.
“One of the nice things about a huge tree like that is it’s different at every season. There’s always something to appreciate about it,” said Dale. But spring, “when it’s leafed out and there’s just so much activity going on, with birds and the bee hives going full tilt,” may be the time he most looks forward to.
“Valley oaks are keystone species,” Dale said, “and many kinds of animals make their livelihood as a result of them.” But they are an at-risk species, declining in number and disappearing due mostly to the fact that where they do best, in alluvial soil on valley floors, is also where we tend to want to build houses. Changing water table levels and soil compaction also adversely affect them, “and so,” said Dale, “they end up dying.”