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Odd Tree Out – The Sequel

Readers of the Anderson Valley Advertiser may remember my “Odd Tree Out” article back in April, which detailed discovery of some young examples of the rare California nutmeg tree west of Philo. Several commented on the article and provided the locations of full-sized California nutmeg trees within Anderson Valley, though none near my discovery. At the end of the article I expressed the hope I would eventually find mature California nutmeg trees nearby, trees whose seeds could have produced the youngsters.

It took a couple of months, but I found them.

Oddly, the first mature California nutmeg tree I found was not where I expected it to be; upslope and very close to the young trees. Instead it was well downslope and perhaps a quarter mile away. Tucked into a very narrow, steep gully, the tree was so hidden I nearly missed it. This tree isn’t impressive; perhaps eight inches in diameter and 30 feet tall. Situated on rocky residual soil in deep shade, it very may well be 50 to 100 years old, far older than its size suggests.

That discovery was topped in early June, when I took a cross country ramble a full half mile from the young trees. As I worked my way down a small draw, I saw a few young California nutmeg. Then a few bigger ones. Eventually I reached a spot where they were everywhere I looked; California nutmegs of various sizes in surprising numbers. Again, the mature trees weren’t very big, but this singular spot clearly offers ideal growing conditions to harbor so many examples.

The California nutmeg in either of these locations could have produced the seeds from which my original discovery trees grew, but probably didn’t. California nutmeg seeds are big and bulky, and therefore likely to sprout near their “parent tree” rather than be carried to a new location by birds. The “parent tree” remains elusive, at least for now.

The other takeaway from these new discoveries is that California nutmeg grows only in locations with very specific conditions: shady, south-facing, often steep slopes with thin, rocky soils. Both discovery sites were surrounded by similar – indeed, almost indistinguishable - land, except the trees weren’t there. The California nutmeg is a very finicky tree.

Typical Nutmeg Grove

I may continue to look for the “parent tree.” Or not. Now that I have found mature California nutmeg in the same general area as the young trees, the need to find that specific tree is gone. Sometimes, close is good enough.

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