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: Howard E. McMinn & Evelyn Maino, An Illustrated Manual of Pacific Coast Trees

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?

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 along the margin and tufts of hair on the undersides, where the secondary veins branch from the main vein. 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.

Significant specimens

Pre-1953 photograph of the Pioneer Oak at Serra Street and Lasuen Mall. Stanford News Service Archives

An ancient tree on Serra Street and Lasuen Mall at the southwest corner of Lathrop Library, which was adopted by the class of 1895 as the Pioneer Oak, was Stanford’s last officially certified historic tree. It came down in 2008, but is vigorously sprouting from its roots.

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.

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.

A venerable tree in the lawn in front 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.

A cabled giant north of the house at Filoli in Woodside, inside the curve of the formal entry pathway there, was estimated to be 340 years old as of 2018 (location).

Mature transplants

550,000 pound coast live oak transplanted on Pasteur Drive. Anne Hill, 4 May 2017

Seeing coast live oaks and other mature trees in large transplanting boxes around campus is commonplace. Stanford’s extensive tree transplant program originated in 1996 with the planning for the Science and Engineering Quad (Serra Grove was established on the west side of the Main Quad with transplants from that site).

In May 2017 a 550,000 pound transplant was moved just across Pasteur Drive from where it stood, to make room for the planned BioMedical Innovations Building.

In 2015, large oaks were removed in massive transplanting boxes in preparation for the construction of the David and Joan Traitel building on Lasuen Mall.

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.

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. In Jul 2018, Sairus Patel added the notes on hair tufts & Traitel, & removed Bracewell’s remark “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” – we do provide name derivations for some entries, and Stanford botanists are hard to find. In Aug 2018, the Filoli specimen and notes on transplants were added, including the Pasteur specimen.