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California Black Oak

Scientific Name:
Quercus kelloggii
Family:
Native Name(s):
  1. Northern Paiute: wia (Fowler 1989)
  2. Pit River: dɔqi (Garth 1953)
Description:

Plant
This tree grows up to 35 m in height with a deeply furrowed, dark gray-brown to black bark. Its bright green leaves are 9 to 20 cm in length with 5 to 7 main lobes, each lobe with 1 to 4 bristle-tipped teeth. Small male flowers are clustered on drooping catkins while female flowers are single or clustered. Fruits are acorns with a thin-scaled “cup” (involucre) and a dark brown, oblong to ovoid shaped nut (appearing greenish in color prior to maturity), the interior of which is woolly. Fruit length including cup and nut ranges from 2 to 4 cm.

Habitat:

Quercus kelloggii grows on slopes, within valleys, and in woodlands and conifer forests from elevations of 30 to 2660 meters.

Distribution:

Quercus kelloggii is found throughout California and into southern Oregon.

Ethnography:

Quercus kelloggii is an important food source for many Native American groups. Before consumption, the acorns must be shelled, ground into flour, and leached with warm water to remove any bitter flavor. 

As food
Northern Paiute: "Wia, acorn, is gotten around Doyle- eastern slope of the hills around Doyle. Acorns were crushed in the mortar with the pestle. They were pulverized very fine. Wild grass was put on a place, the acorn flour was put on this mat and lukewarm water was poured over it to leach out the bitterness. This process was kept up until all the bitterness was gone. Then it was put in a basket and cooked with rocks. The acorns were ground with mortar and pestle because they are much harder." (Fowler 1989:52)

Northern Paiute: "Acorns (wia) were found around Doyle. They were gathered in the latter part of September. The acorns were knocked down from the trees with a long pole. The shells were cracked with a rock. When the shells were removed the acorns were ground. Then the acorns were ground into flour with a mortar and pestle. A concave bed of clean sand 2 or 3 ft in diameter is made. The flour is spread on the sand and covered with small cedar branches.  Warm water is slowly poured on until the flour turns from pale green to white in color. The flour that is clean of sand is put in a basket. The flour rises to the top and is drained off with the water."  (Fowler 1989:52-53)

Pit River: "As in the rest of northern California acorns formed a large part of the vegetable diet [for the Pit River]. Even in the eastern area where there were few oaks, and sunflower and other foods became more important, the natives made long trips into Atsuge and even Yana country for acorns. The Atsuge, likewise, went outside their territory for acorns when their own crop was poor. Sometimes the first snowfall caught a part of acorn-gatherers at some distant locality and forced them to spend part of the winter there in temporary bark huts. Men or agile girls climbed oak trees and knocked down acorns with sticks or they stood below and used long sticks for the purpose. One man might strip two or three trees in a day.  Women gathered the fallen acorns in baskets. White acorns (tsĭdiu) were not gathered much, the black acorns (dɔqi) being much preferred. Acorns were not considered best if picked when slightly green.  At present long acorns (kadĭkiyɔw) are sometimes gathered from the vicinity of Redding and Anderson, acorns being an important article of diet even today...Acorn-filled baskets (about the size of a nail keg) were moved by stages to winter quarters. Many of the acorns were dried in the shell on slabs of bark and stored in pits or granaries. Shelled acorns (yohpagi) were stored in large baskets (hónor) in the cookhouse or outside covered with bark. Acorn shelling was a social occasion; young people had contests to see who could shell ten acorns the fastest. They shelled the acorns with their teeth or by pounding the up-ended acorn with a rock, using another rock as an anvil.  One person might do the cracking and the other might take the shells off; either sex participated. The split acorns were dried on platforms (rapEréhe) of branches and pine needles, supported on four posts about three feet high.  On rainy days a fire was built underneath to dry the acorns...Acorns were prepared for consumption by being pulverized in a basket hopper. The flour was sifted by jarring it on a board (jupdas) or flat basketry plaque (jupdas ka par) until the larger pieces were separated out, to be pounded over again...The flour was leached, formerly in a basin in the sand but nowadays in flour-sacking put over a basket. After cold water had seeped through the meal two or three ties, warm water was used until the meal tasted right. The prepared meal might be stored until needed.  In making mush, flour and water were put in a basket along with hot stones, which had first been dipped in water to remove adhering ashes. Two forked sticks (twaíwas) were used to lift the hot stones. There was no looped stick mush stirrer or tongs. A plain uncarved stick served as a mush stirrer. Mush was ordinarily eaten with meat, each person having his own small basket and conveying the mush to his mouth with index and secondary fingers.  Spoons were unknown. The mush with thicker than that of the Maidu, who were said to drink it from the baskets. In making acorn bread (ɔwcowi) some of the meal was mixed with water and a small quantity of earth. It was then molded into small biscuits or larger loaves and wrapped with sunflower leaves. The bread was cooked all night in the earth oven; it might keep a week without spoiling, and was often taken by men on hunting expeditions." (Garth 1953:137-138)

Distribution Map: