by Charlene Simpson
Island Lakes Condominium resident
Willamette Valley Ponderosa Pine
(Pinus Ponderosa Var. Benthamiana)
The name ponderosa brings to mind images of the American West. For 14 seasons we watched the TV show “Bonanza” chronicling the adventures of the Cartwright family who lived on their 600,000 acre ranch called the Ponderosa (Wikipedia. 2010). This scene is suggestive of dry sites east of the Cascades and Sierra Nevadas. But we are learning that ponderosa pine once thrived in the green, moist Willamette Valley where it had adapted to do just fine in wet ground.
Ponderosa pine was an abundant component of the Willamette Valley ecosystem from at least 11,000 years ago until the mid-1800s (Hibbs, et al. 2002). Populations disappeared because of changing land use patterns following Euro-American settlement of the valley.
Many botanists believe that the Willamette Valley race is a different variety from its dry site relative. Eastern material planted in the Valley doesn’t do well. Only the race that has evolved here thrives.
Botanists are now calling ponderosa pines that grow west of the Cascade crest and in northern California Bentham’s ponderosa pine. It’s also OK for us to call the trees that grow in our area Willamette Valley ponderosa pine. The Oregon Flora Project at Oregon State University currently accepts both of these names (www.oregonflora.org).
A Willamette Valley ponderosa pine tree grows on The Boulders on the River property on the west side of Goodpasture Island Road opposite the north Delta Ponds car park.
Oregon White Oak
Oregon white oak, also known as Garry oak, is the only native oak in the Willamette Valley. It is exceptionally long lived – living up to 500 years. Many of the oaks standing today may have been living when Lewis and Clark visited the Northwest in 1804.
For thousands of years indigenous people, collectively called the Kalapuya, gathered, prepared and stored Oregon white oak acorns in the fall. Bread and porridge made from acorn meal were staples of the Kalapuya diet (Vesely and Tucker, 2004).
With the arrival of settlers oak woodlands were converted for human use. Trevor Taylor, resource supervisor with the City of Eugene Parks and Open Space Division, is quoted by Cunningham (Register-Guard, 2006): “Only one-tenth of 1 percent of the white oak population remains. It’s almost extinct, with very small remnants left and (most all) in private ownership.”
Historically, the Kalapuya used fire to manage the land. Oaks survived with little damage and benefited from the control of competing species. Fire suppression following Euro-American settlement significantly altered oak habitat.
A very large and very old Oregon white oak grows on Island Lakes Condominium property at the corner of James and Goodpasture Island Roads. Its exact age is unknown, but estimated to be between 100 and 250 years old. Because its crown is so rounded it is thought that it grew as a single tree without competition.
The Oregon white oak at Island Lakes was designated a Legacy Tree by the Eugene Tree Foundation in 2005. This designation is conferred only on trees of great age, great size and great history. Island Lakes Condominium Association takes pride in being its custodian.
Cunningham, Chris. 2006. “Ode to an Oak” in the Home and Garden Section. Eugene Register Guard. June 22, 2006.
Hibbs, E.E., M.V. Wilson and A.L. Bower. 2002. Ponderosa pine of the Willamette Valley, western Oregon. Northwest Science 76: 80-84.
Meyers, Stephen C. and Kyle A. Leonard. 2012. In Search of the Willamette Valley Ponderosa Pine. Oregon Flora Newsletter 17 (2) 2012.
Vesely, David and Gabe Tucker. October 2004. Landowner’s Guide to Restoring and Managing Oregon White Oak Habitats. Pacific Wildlife Research.
Vecchi, Charlene. 2000. Willamette Valley Ponderosa Pine. Lane Extension Bulletin. June, 5, 2000.
Wikipedia, Bonanza. February 2010.