The Los Osos Oaks State Natural Reserve used to be ancient sand dunes but is now covered with centuries-old coast live oak trees and unique plant communities. It’s located just five miles east of Morro Bay along the Los Osos Valley Road. There lies the 90-acre grove of dwarfed coastal live oaks, which don’t grow more than 6 to 8 feet tall. The larger coast live oaks require wetter soil to grow to 25 feet in height. Green moss delicately hangs from gnarled tree branches and lichen covers their broad trunks. The beautifully whimsical backdrop is frequently used by local photographers.
Similar woodlands were once widespread along the coast, but most fell to clearing, grazing, firewood cutting, and development. Like much of the neighboring State Parks land, the reserve has been spared development seen throughout the Central Coast. Los Osos Oaks was part of a Mexican land grant, of which most of the land was subdivided and cleared for farming. Incredibly, this patch of ancient oaks was spared, and the magnificent trees continue to grow today.
Five major plant communities thrive within the reserve including coastal sage scrub, central coastal scrub, dune oak scrub, coast live oak forest, and riparian. Sycamore grows along the prevalent live oak trees and a variety of mushrooms sprout from trees. There are many invasive species in the area including German ivy, which grows in shaded areas, oats, and poison oak. The California coffeeberry plant, or the California buckthorn, grows in the area as well Its leaves can be used as a laxative and coffeeberry bark is a popular herbal remedy for chronic constipation.
The Los Osos State Natural Reserve is an ideal location to spot a variety of birds, mammals, and insects. In the grove, look for acorn woodpeckers, western flycatchers, Anna’s and Allen’s hummingbirds, Northern flickers, California towhees and thrashers. Grassland birds include Brewer’s blackbirds and mourning doves.
Mammals in the Los Osos Oaks Natural Reserve include the California pocket mouse, gray fox, dusky-footed woodrat, striped skunk, bobcat, coyote, and opossum. Reptiles and amphibians like western skinks, Southern alligator lizards, western fence lizards, and Pacific tree frogs dine on insects like dragonflies, butterflies, and others.
Stop by during the holidays to see Christmas daisies, a white lavender flower that gets its name from being a late bloomer. Easily accessible nature-near-town provides great short hikes for families and is good for all ages. The reserve provides a great opportunity for visitors to identify the abundance of plants and teach children how to identify the pervasive poison oak in the area. Take a look at CCSPA’s Adventure With Nature docent-led hikes, classes, and workshops at new.centralcoastparks.org/awn/ if you are interested in exploring more of your backyard woodland wonderland!
Photo Courtesy of Brendan Carretero