Plant of the day: leather oak

Oaks are generally thought of as tall, graceful trees. But you can also find them in the sea of waist-high bushes known as chaparral. Leather oak (Quercus durata var. durata) is a common sight on serpentine soils in this area.

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Leather oak can grow to around nine feet tall, but I have mainly noticed them growing much closer to the ground. Look close to spot acorns or clusters of catkin-like flowers among the small, grayish green leaves. The leaves of this species are dull, dusted with a pale fuzz (paler on the top than on the bottom). They also are concavely curled towards the ground–you could flip one over and use it for a little spoon, if they didn’t have a tendency to be spiny.

As with all acorns, the nut of the leather oak is edible once its bitter tannins have been leached out. Acorns were historically a major food source for local Native American tribes, and still are a major part of the food chain for wildlife. People generally remove tannins by soaking the nut in water (or a running stream). But some tribes would plant the acorn in a bog and wait until it sprouted in the spring–a system which apparently got rid of most tannins but preserved more nutrients than the water method.

Acorns can be eaten whole, or ground into a floury powder for cooking. Roasted acorns can be used as a coffee substitute.

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Filed under Edible, Native, Plant of the day

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