City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

February 10, 2017

February 10th

Filed under: Gambel's Oak — canopus56 @ 8:38 pm

Tough Plant – Part I

4:00 p.m. In the afternoon, it has begun to rain again as a I leave the canyon, and this persists into the night. During my short walk above Guardhouse Gate through the rain, the canyon is alive with deepened colors and fresh scents.

The Gambel’s oak that dominates the lower two miles of the canyon is a tough plant; it is much tougher than most might suspect. It is adapted for the far more severe droughts identified by Bekker et al (Feb. 9th) that our beyond our historical experience. Gambel oak forests extend over most of northern and central Utah doing south to northern Arizona. The forests contain three types of Gambel’s oak: Quercus gambelii Nutt., Quercus turbinnell Greene and a hybridized cross, Quercus gambelii x turbinnell (Cottam 1959). Cottam proved that Quercus gambelii x turbinnell was a hybird of the two parents by hand cultivating a cross from seedlings (Warchol).

It is Gambel’s oak, Quercus gambelii, that comprises the primary forest the canyon and Utah at an elevation between 5,000 to 7,000 feet and from Brigham City on the north and central Arizona to the south and from the Wasatch Front Mountains on the west and central Colorado on the east (Ehelringer and Phillips). In this regard, it is a unique forest that does not occur elsewhere in the world. It is highly drought and fire tolerate, and its achieves that resistance by a combination a deep central root, its lignotuber, and by reproducing by cloning through lateral root extensions called rhizomes (Tiedemann, Clary and Barbour). The lignotuber is a bulbous subsurface central root that is covered in buds ready to sprout in the event of a fire. The subsurface portion of the Gambel’s oak is large – 85 tonnes per hectare – and near the upper range of subsurface mass per hectare of all the oaks (id). The subsurface structure of a northern Gambel’s oak forest also distinguishable by its network of subsurface rhizomes grafts. Tiedemann, Clary, and Barbour found that the roots of neighboring trees were connected by multiple, fused grafts.

Although Quercus gambelii provides massive volumes of acorns that are a pillar of the canyon’s trophic food chain (Aug. 30th), Gambel’s oaks do not primarily reproduce sexually through their seeds. Where abundant at their northern limits in Utah, Gambel’s oaks reproduce primarily by cloning through extension of each plant’s rhizomal lateral root system beneath the ground (Neilson and Wullstein, 1986 at 298; Neilson and Wullstein, 1983 at 295; Tiedemann, Clary and Barbour). This adaptation may have evolved due to extended exposure to severe northern freezing, that kills the oak’s acorns, and drought conditions, that fosters the development of extensive root systems.

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on February 10th, 1841, he observes several hundred bees that had prematurely left their hive and died frozen on the snow. On February 10th, 1855, he notes that winter storms concentrate sparrows into large flocks; otherwise they travel in groups of three or four. On February 10th, 1856, he sees a fox. On February 10th, 1860, he notes that in winter, open river water is black colored.

On February 10th, 1889, a petition was presented to the City Council requesting the return of water rights in City Creek Canyon allegedly improperly appropriated by the City (Salt Lake Herald).


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