Quercus agrifolia
coast live oak, encina

Fagaceae (beech family)
California Coast Ranges
Coast live oaks (Quercus agrifolia) at Lake Lagunita Sairus Patel, 3 Jun 2015
Quercus agrifolia leaves and acorn. From Trees of Stanford and Environs, by Ronald Bracewell

Visitors to the campus from other states often remark on the gnarled old oaks, of which magnificent specimens abound. Two species are common on campus and native to it, the evergreen live oak and the deciduous valley oak (Quercus lobata).

The word quercus means oak in Latin and survives in Italian as quercia. The prefix agri refers to a field (as in agriculture). Therefore, agrifolia means field-like leaf. The leaves more resemble the leaves of a holly (family Aquifoliaceae) than they do a field; so why is our favorite tree not named Q. aquifolia? Though the meanings are often of interest, it would be tedious to give the meanings of all the generic and specific names of our trees, which in any case are obtainable from any Stanford botanist or from W.T. Stearn, Botanical Latin, 4th ed. 1995.

The coast live oak (not to be confused with the live oak Q. virginiana of the Southern United States) has tough convex leaves 1 to 2 inches long with a few spiny teeth. In spring the oaks liberate great quantities of pollen from hanging catkins. The separate female flowers later produce acorns about 1½ inches long and ½ inch in diameter. Widely distributed by squirrels, and stored by woodpeckers in custom-drilled holes in tree trunks and wood siding, the acorns germinate freely all over the campus, especially where there is some ground cover.

The coast live oak is in vogue for landscaping, being perhaps the most popular single species of large tree at Stanford. It reaches an age of 200 to 300 years; an idea of the rate of growth may be gained from the row along Lasuen Mall next to the Quad, which is said to have been planted in 1918.

Quercus agrifolia leaves and acorn. From: Howard E. McMinn & Evelyn Maino, An Illustrated Manual of Pacific Coast Trees

An ancient tree on Serra Street and Lasuen Mall at the southwest corner of the Graduate School of Business, which was adopted by the class of 1895 as the Pioneer Oak, was still standing when this site was created in 2005 [19 June 2008, Time has come for Stanford’s last officially certified historic tree].

Gone is one of the university’s most beloved specimens, which stood guard at the Mausoleum until it was removed in 1993, a victim of leaf and twig diseases cryptocline and diplodia. Estimated to be 300 years old, it measured 70 feet tall, with a trunk diameter of 55 inches and a branch spread of 120 feet. Wood from the tree was incorporated into the round table (the unusual spiral pattern) in the rotunda of Green Library’s Bing Wing.

An example of apparent success moving a mature Q. agrifolia can be seen at Homer Park, across from 315 Homer Avenue, Palo Alto. The 35-foot-tall specimen (weighing nearly 35 tons!) was transplanted to the site in August 2003.

Other fine examples of Q. agrifolia include two in front of Lagunita Court; the patriarch south of Arrillaga Alumni Center; and one with a fun plaque at the southwest corner of Campus Drive East and Galvez Street. A decades-ago fallen tree, still growing vigorously, is behind the Mausoleum.

The venerable tree in lawn in from of Cummings Art (facing Lasuen) was taken down 15 December 2010. Healthy mature native oaks can still be found on central campus: visit the inner court of Governor’s corner where fine examples of blue, valley, and coast live oak grow as of December 2010.

Name derivation: Quercus – classical Latin name for the oak. agrifolia – “with rough or scabby leaves” according to William Stearn’s Dictionary of Plant Names. Possible root words are the Latin agri, “a field,” and the Greek agri or gro, “fierce or wild,” from which the Latin meaning probably descends. Since folium and folius are Latin, and Greek and Latin were generally not mixed to form words, the Latin root would probably be the most likely. I have no idea how Stearn came up with the meaning… [from California Plant Names].

About this Entry: The main text of this entry is from the book Trees of Stanford and Environs, by Ronald Bracewell, published 2005. John Rawlings added the Cummings Art and Governor’s Corner notes in 2010.