City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

July 10, 2017

July 3rd

Filed under: Gambel's Oak — canopus56 @ 10:25 pm

Hybrid Gambel’s Oak – Part I

External Link to Image

Cottam’s F1 Hybrid Cross of Gambel’s oak and Arizona shrub oak. (Author taken July 2017 at 1760 South Campus Drive, University of Utah, Lat. 40.760233, Long. -111.8415315).

2:00 p.m. Today, it is 100 degrees Fahrenheit, and meteorologists are predicting a string of days where temperatures will exceed that level. Behind the University Hospital along the Salt Lake salient, I am hunting for a rare native Utah plant: Cottam’s hybrid cross between Gambel’s oak (Quercus gambelii Nutt.) and a Arizona shrub oak (Quercus turbinnell Greene). The scientific designation o the hybridized cross is (Quercus gambelii x turbinnell) (Cottam 1959, see February 10th). There are only three or four small patches of this hybrid in the Salt Lake Valley, and I begin today by viewing Walter Cottam’s exemplar, forgotten but well-tended grove of the hybrid at 1760 South and South Campus Drive on the University of Utah Campus, nestled between the campus police department and a maintenance shed. It helps to look at internet images of exemplars of the Gambel’s oak and Arizona shrub oak to understand what the hybrid is (Utah State Univ. 2017, Wikipedia 2017). Gambel’s oak leaves are deeply lobed, soft-pointed ends, and have waxy upper surfaces. Arizona shrub oak leaves are shallow lobes, sharp-pointed ends, and hairy upper surfaces. The first generation hybrid cross between the two species have shallow lobes, sharp-pointed ends, and waxy upper surfaces. The hybrid cross is easily found in the fall during November because Gambel’s oak loses its leaves while the first-generation hybrid cross retains its leaves. (Botanists designate a first generation hybrid cross with the letter “F1”). Cottam, a University of Utah botanist (deceased 1988), famously bred a small grove of F1 Quercus gambelii x turbinnell hybrids in the 1960s and 1970s using native true Gambel’s oaks and Arizona shrub oaks.

After seeing the exemplar, I begin today’s search for this rare Utah native plant at “This is Place” State Monument, at three miles distant from Cottam’s Oak Grove. “This is the Place” is now a state historical reconstruction theme park that commemorates the 1847 arrival of Mormon pioneers to the Salt Lake Valley. It features a seventy-foot tall bronze statute of the early Mormon president Brigham Young, and a smaller obelisk about a mile away that marks the historical point where Young declared that “This is the Place” at which the Mormons would create new theodemocratic nation (March 20th). An article by the Utah Native Plant Society records that in 2008, there was an easily accessible grove of this hybrid oak marked by an interpretative sign (Frates 2008), but the Plant Society article does not say exactly where the interpretative grove is.

I arrive at the “This is the Place” monument, and this begins an afternoon that is a comedy of errors. No one at that main office knows anything about the interpretative marker or grove. They direct me to a long-time employee, a professional historical re-enactor who has worked at the monument for nineteen years. I ask along the way, and another long-time employee directs me to an overgrown, long-disused path at the “Joseph Smith Memorial Grove”. There, I find no interpretative marker, but one oak whose leaves resemble the exemplar plant in Cottam’s Grove. The leaves are too large to be the hybrid, and other leaves on the parent trunk have round lobes. Next, I seek out the long-time employee, a leather-worker historical actor in the Saddlery shop. Remarkably, he is looks almost like Brigham Young, both in dress, in the strong jawline of Young, and with Young’s piercing eyes. He explains that the Cottam’s hybrid oak marker used to stand in front of what is now a building in the park that lets small children pan for gold in a simulated creek for a one dollar USD fee. I have already inspected that area and it there is no Cottam F1 hybird oak there. The actor is polite and tolerant but becomes disquieted with my continued questioning. He leads me outside, waives his hand are the surrounding oak groves of the Wasatch Front hillsides, and proclaims, “All of these are the hybrid oaks. That is what the biologists have been teaching us for years, and unless they got it wrong of course.” And he gives me a wink of the eye to emphasize I have gotten things wrong. I surmise the Cottom F1 hybrid grove at the monument has been torn out to make way for the tourist trinket store with its adjacent simulate gold-panning stream.

Next, I go to the Utah state arboretum at the Red Butte Gardens, about two miles away, suspecting from another reference book that there may be a hybrid oak grove there (Cottam, Tucker and Santamour 1982). No one at the arboretum knows about the hybrid oak, other than that there is large, bronze commemorative sculpture just beyond the entrance to gardens. I search, but find no Cottam F1 cross.

* * * *

Per Thoreau’s “Journal” on July 3rd, 1852, he notes winter-green is in blossom. On July 3rd, 1853, he describes an oven bird nest. On July 3rd, 1854, he hears purple finches. He notes that the leaves on willows, white oaks and maples have become so dense that one cannot see through them. On July 3rd, 1859, he notes the strong smell of partridge berries (Mitchella repens). On July 3rd, 1860, he examines a Northern harrier nest with a young nestling nearby.

* * * *

On July 3rd, 1924, City Park Commissioner M. R. Stewart recommended using prison labor to improve the road in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Telegram). On July 3rd, 1907, students at L.D.S. University and their coach Milne trained by running two miles up City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune). On July 3, 1902, the Salt Lake Telegram reported on the 8 surviving members of the advance party of July 24, 1847. William C. A. Smoot who was 19 in 1847, noted that,

We didn’t succeed in growing anything except an few little potatoes the first year. We had to dig up segos and thistles. By December though our cattle got so that we could have meat.

The valley was not covered with sagebrush then as some persons have said. It was all grass almost as tall as wheat and made fine grazing for cattle. Most of this has been trampled down since but small patches of it may be seen up Parley’s canyon and in some part of the City cemetery.

On July 3, 1901, attorney Fred T. McGurrin’s horse and carriage ran off while he was on a fishing trip in upper City Creek Canyon. The carriage crashed and the horse later had to be euthanized (Salt Lake Herald, Deseret Evening News).

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