Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Elfin Forest: Pygmy Oaks in Los Osos

We had never heard of the Elfin Forest, and found out about it just by chance while looking for new things to see on our trip to the Central Coast. It's a unique spot: a coastal forest that got its name from the pygmy oaks that grow there. They are the same coast live oaks that elsewhere grow up to 50 feet tall--here, though, they top out at around 12 feet. This photo was taken in the Rose Bowker Grove, a maze of twisted trunks that rise up, turn back into the ground and come up again.

A boardwalk leads you through this dense habitat, which has many different kinds of coastal vegetation--areas of coastal dune scrub and maritime chaparral as well as the pygmy oak woodland. The draping plants here are called lace lichen--a combination of fungi and algae. According to the forest brochure, these lichens help the trees by gathering "moisture and nutrients from the foggy air."

The air was certainly foggy on the day we were there. Here's the view from Bush Lupine Point--such as it was! On a clear day, Morro Rock would be sitting just out to the west, beyond the wetlands.

The boardwalk has interpretive panels that relate some of the Native American history associated with this spot. Apparently Indians inhabited the area for at least 9,000 years. Some of the present-day pygmy oaks are 200-400 years old--but the implication is that this has been an elfin forest for a long, long time.

For more information about the El Moro Elfin Forest, including how to get there, click here.