City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

February 13, 2017

February 13th

Filed under: Birds, Gambel's Oak, People, Weather — canopus56 @ 4:15 pm

Ageless Tree

1:00 p.m. Again, the day is a cold, clear late winter day with a harsh bright snow. The warm light has an immediate effect on some of the younger population. Both in the city and in the canyon and even though it is still about thirty-five degrees, runners have removed their outwear and are jogging in a summer t-shirt and shorts. In the canyon, the green of the horsetails is exposed, but they are still in suspended animation. The horsetails have been bent over by the snow, and none are moving to again stand erect. A group of three sparrows, not European sparrows, hides in root thickets before I can identify them, and a lone small moth flutters across the road. The stream still runs high but has lessened since yesterday. Several days of warm weather has started the snow pack melt. The stream has a slight milky color. It is not moving fast enough to displace rocks, but the snow pack contains the dust that was incorporated as the snow was deposited and the stream is sufficiently fast to transport the finest of sediments. Water is everywhere. The seeps are running higher, and the sound of the stream dominates the canyon experience. It drowns out all other sounds of the distance city and the water’s rhythms turn my jog into a meditative experience.

As I go past the many copses and groves of Gambel’s oaks (Quercus gambelii) in the first three-quarters of a mile of the canyon and again in Pleasant Valley at milepost 1.5, I wonder about their age. Above ground trunk rings indicate an age range for Gambel’s oaks of between 45 and 90 years (Tiedemann, Clary and Barbour), but for trees like Gambel’s oak that reproduce primarily by clonal root extension, age as measured by tree rings (Jan. 31st) has no meaning. An above-ground trunk connected to the rhizomal underground root system of the total organism might die by fire or disease, but the rest of the organism continues. By this reasoning, some trees like aspens that also propagate by root cloning are thought to be tens of thousands of years old (DeWoody et al). One biologist has suggested that Quercus gambelii’s hybird, the Quercus gambelii x turbinnell copse at Cottam’s Grove (Warchol), may be 5,000 to 7,000 years old (Assoc. Press, 2007). But how old are the Quercus gambelii copses in the canyon? Are they also thousands of years old like Cottam’s Grove?

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