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Tracking Cork Oak and World War II History in the West

This fall I had the honor of speaking to a gathering of hundreds of professional tree people in California about an episode in tree-planting and espionage that most of them had never heard of. My talk about Oaks, Espionage and National Security drew on my research for my new book, Cork Wars: Intrigue and Industry in World War II. A branch of that story is on the International Oak Society’s website now.

In short, through World War II, young 4-H club members and garden clubs from coast to coast grabbed shovels and pitched in for tree-planting efforts as part of Arbor Day celebrations. For the young people who planted 5 million acorns, the seedlings represented self-reliance and a patriotism they could grow.

For the book, I spoke with people who recalled planting the exotic Q. suber seedlings. What became of those Q. suber seedlings planted over 70 years ago? At the University of Arizona Campus Arboretum in Tucson, Elizabeth Davison, the founding director, told me how Steve Fazio led the cork oak plantings on campus in the 1940s. Decades later, Davison commemorated a survivor of those plantings as a Heritage Tree for Arizona. People in California pointed me to others.

Please have a look and let me know what you think.

What I didn’t expect at that gathering was to be surprised myself. But surrounding the conference center in Davis, I found a cluster of cork oak trees, planted during World War II, that testified to the history I was talking about. And on day trips nearby I found more reminders in the landscape in unlikely places: at the Napa State Hospital, and in Sacramento on the state capitol grounds. As William Faulkner wrote, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

That’s especially true when you’re dealing with trees that can live for more than a century.

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  1. Pingback: California in a World War II Security Campaign - David A. Taylor

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