True to its name, canyon live oak (Quercus chrysolepis) is often found clinging to ravine walls and steep hillsides. This beautiful and abundant tree is most easily identified by the golden-colored fuzz that coats the concave underside of young leaves–giving rise to one of it’s other common names, goldencup oak. In chaparral it can be low low and shrubby, but in more open country it grows into a graceful tree.
Canyon live oak has particularly hard wood for an oak, and its third common name is maul oak as it historically was used to make axles, tool handles, mauls, wagon tongues, plow beams, ship frames, and wheels. Wedges made from canyon live oak were used to split redwood into railroad ties. As with all oaks, its acorns were a favorite food of Native Americans. Once the bitter tannins had been leached out, it can be made into flour for cakes, breads and stews. In the southern coast range, it is a main habitat for spotted owls; myriad other species live in the oak forests, thriving on the abundant nourishment provided by the acorns. Reptiles and amphibians live in trunk cavities, birds nest among the branches, black-tailed deer browse on the leaves and mountain lions prowl through the underbrush.