Hi Bill,

The RCD is soliciting acorns from community members for our Acorns to Oaks project. Does this effort have potential for spreading Sudden Oak Death disease? If so, shall we tell people to collect only in areas where SOD has not been found?

Frances Knapczyk

Conservation Program Manager

Napa County Resource Conservation District

I received that inquiry both from Frances and from Eric McKee, Napa Resource Conservation District (RCD) Education Coordinator.

Both are wise to address this concern, since Sudden Oak Death (SOD) disease is well documented in Napa County and it can spread in a variety of ways.

The Acorns to Oaks project is exactly the kind of project I was hoping for when I joined the RCD as an associate director and now as a member of the board of directors. It provides an opportunity to volunteer and help the local community and environment.

First, what is an RCD? Here is an excerpt from the Napa RCD website:

“Resource conservation districts are one of California’s earliest grassroots organizations that identify conservation needs and support local land managers in implementing solutions on a voluntary basis. The catastrophic soil losses of the dust bowl sparked national and state recognition that soil erosion was the greatest challenge to the country’s ability to feed its people and be a leader in agricultural production. Non-regulatory conservation districts were conceived by the federal government and were later sanctioned by the State of California in 1938 to provide assistance to local managers in addressing soil and resource conservation challenges.

“The Napa County RCD was formed in 1945. It is a ‘Special District,’ a legal subdivision of the state, organized under Division 9 of the California Public Resources Code. Examples of other independent, special districts are Park and Open Space Districts, Mosquito Abatement Districts, and Flood Control and Water Conservation Districts.”

The Acorns to Oaks Project is an example of the Napa RCD efforts to educate young folks and do constructive work for the local environment.

In the Acorns to Oaks Project, Friends of the Napa River (FONR) and the Napa County Resource Conservation District, local landowners, and fifth- through 12th grade school groups partner to plant oaks and associated understory plants in the Napa Valley.

Landowners provide suitable planting locations while school groups collect and plant acorns, then plant the sprouted oak seedlings. FONR and RCD supervise restoration and environmental education components of the students’ experience, including demonstrations of collecting and planting techniques, oak ecology and watershed stewardship.

If you have valley, blue, black, or coast live oaks on your property, watch for acorns when they are ripe and dropping from the trees. Collect them in a bag, including a leaf to help with tree species identification. Discard acorns that are soft, rotten, holey or have a broken husk. Then, bring them to the RCD office for safe storage.

Now, to answer that question.

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The Sudden Oak Death organism, Phytophthora ramorum is spread primarily in infested soil, organic matter and infected leaves of foliar host plants.

Research has shown that the disease does not typically spread from infected oaks. Still, there is a chance that the dry, resting structures — chlamydospores — could conceivably be present.

My advice was to simply rinse the acorns, preferably in a light solution of bleach (1/2 cup per gallon of water and then set them out to dry before storing in the fridge. I got that from a California Oak Foundation article: “How to Collect, Store and Plant Acorns.”

To double check, I contacted Matteo Garbelotto, director of the UC Berkeley Forest Pathology and Mycology Lab. He responded:

“A 10-minute wash in 10 percent bleach followed by two rinses will definitely eliminate the risk.”

If you would like to participate in the Acorns to Oaks project, it is time to get out there and look closely at any native oaks on your property.

The RCD Office is at 1303 Jefferson St., Suite 500B, Napa.

Call the RCD at 707-252-4189 ext. 3124, check the website: NapaRCD.org or email Frances Knapzyck (Frances@naparcd.org) or Eric McKee (eric@naparcd.org).

Bill Pramuk is a registered consulting arborist. Visit his website, www.billpramuk.com, email questions to info@billpramuk.com or call him at 707-226-2884)