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Mutualism: Coast Live Oaks

Framed print of Coast Live Oak by bioregional artist Derek Schultz, Los Osos CA

It's been a busy beginning of summer this year! I have many ongoing projects, and I haven't quite had the time to share as many updates as I would like to. However, I am very excited at this juncture to share with you about a collaborative piece with Central Coast State Parks Association in support of our local state parks! This past spring, CCSPA approached me about creating a design for our locally-beloved Live Oak music festival, with art featuring our favorite native tree, Quercus agrifolia. Coast live oaks have a number of interesting mutualistic relationships with other species, making them deeply integrated with the land of California’s coasts. One of these relationships is with Ramalina menziesii, commonly known as lace lichen, which we see blowing in wispy strands from the branches of the oaks.

Lace lichen on pygmy coast live oaks in the elfin forest of Los Osos, photograph by Derek Schultz

Lace lichen is itself a symbiotic organism, an amalgam of a fungus and an alga living together in the same body. The fungus creates the "house" by growing a physical body (the thallus), while the alga provides "food" by photosynthesizing sunlight into stored energy. The lichen most often resides upon the limbs of oaks, catching moisture from the foggy air and dripping it onto the woodland floor, in effect helping to water the trees who survive through the harsh drought season of our mediterranean climate.

It is the study of relationships between organisms which has long interested me about nature and science. These relationships are unique and born of millions of years of interaction and interdependence; they create the character of the land which nourishes and sustains us. Art is my way of exploring these relationships, prompting myself to learn more about them, and ultimately sharing them with the world.

The more we begin to understand the living beings around us, and their relationships, the more we understand ourselves as belonging to a sense of place. The land is no longer a vast abstraction; it becomes a rich tapestry of colorful living characters: our neighbors, our relatives, our ancestors. When we learn about these relatives, we have the opportunity to grow our empathy for them, for the circumstances which affect them, and for our ability to be in right relationship to them. As our sense of belonging-to-place grows, so does our sense of connection and responsibility.

Fungus growing on the limb of a coast live oak in the Elfin Forest

This design is available through CCSPA in support of our local state parks. Check out their website at! They have printed this design on a number of apparel pieces to your taste in color and size. It is also available as a fine art giclée print here at my website.

Through the course of creating this design, I arrived at two different depictions of the oak tree. The first shows the oak in the fog with lichen blowing from its branches. The second features a narrative tapestry, focusing on the detail of the lace lichen and the water cycle which supports life in the woodland. Prints of both versions are available for sale.

The more we understand the mutualistic relationships between organisms in nature, the more we can begin to see how we fit into the fabric of the world, and how we are deeply connected to one another, inseparable.

First salutations to the stars.

Thanks to all relatives and ancestors.

May all beings be happy and free.

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