Historical extent of oaks in Sonoma County


Oaks are intricately tied to the human history of Sonoma County, California. The impressive size of individual trees, and the extent and beauty of the lowland groves are common themes in our county’s historical records. Early writers often compared the valleys where oaks grew to a park, with open spaces between the trees and little understory . This is a testament to the natural vigor of the trees themselves, and to the stewardship of native peoples, who had been tending the land here for thousands of years.

Quotations from early California settlers

“We passed through an extremely large roblar (trees very tall and thick) . . . running 3 leagues [8 miles]east to west, and a league and a half [four miles] north to south” — Jose Altimira, founder of the Sonoma Mission, describing Sonoma Valley in 1823.

“the valleys are . . . sprinkled with oak trees, and it seems ever as if we were about to enter a forest which we never reach, for in the distance the oaks, though really far apart, appear to grow in dark and heavy masses” — Frank Marryat, describing Sonoma Valley in 1850.

Oak landscape as first recorded

The Spanish term “roblar,” commonly used in Mexican California, is not really conveyed by the English words “forest,” or “grove.” An “oak-dominated landscape” is probably close, if we imagine a place on the floor of a valley where oaks are prominent among a mosaic of grasslands, wetlands, and riparian corridors (see map on the following page). Within a roblar, oaks grow in varying densities, from savannah to denser woodlands. Historically, the roblars of Sonoma County were likely dominated by Valley oaks (Q. lobata) and their hybrids, though blue, black, Oregon and coast live oaks (Q. douglasii, kelloggii, garryana, and agrifolia) were also part of the mix.

Read more at Historical extent of oaks, Sonoma County, California.

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