With Nuisance Chestnuts Gone, Moritani Oak Comes into the Light

Moritani Preserve signThe Moritani Preserve is a hidden gem, located just west of Downtown Winslow, bounded by Winslow Way, Grow Avenue and Shepard Way NW. It’s meant to be a passive park – meaning it’s a perfect place for family picnics, quiet, reflective walks (maybe with your dog), or simply hanging out and enjoying the nearly nine-acre surroundings of forest, meadows and deciduous trees.

Moritani Oak EarthCorps chipped in during Moritani Preserve restoration work.The newest natural wonder in the park – recently discovered by a team of EarthCorps youth – is a stately oak that is estimated to be pushing 100 years old—and that may be on the low end. At a glance, it’s a leafy and magnificent specimen, sprawling across the open blue sky (before the recent gray skies set in), yet always hidden just beyond plain sight. Until now!

You can call it Garry – as in – you guessed it – a Garry Oak.  

“Look at this oak, isn’t it magnificent?” gushes Lydia Roush, natural resource manager for Bainbridge Island Metro Parks & Recreation District, which manages the Preserve. “It’s much more aesthetic to walk through here and see this huge, majestic and very old oak. The horse chestnuts were growing into MORITANI OAK COMES INTO THE LIGHTit and shading it out. We’re hoping now that it’s got more sun and more space, it’ll perk back up and shoot out some new limbs in the spring.”

The century-old tree came to light a few weeks back as the Park District felled a clump of giant chestnut trees that had, through the years, grown up in front of the oak, but found themselves on the list of undesirables. Chestnut sprouts were appearing in the meadow and around the Preserve.

The specific variety of oak is still in question. It could be a Garry oak (Quercus garryana) – so known in Washington, although “Oregon white oak” to our parochial neighbors to the south – or an English white oak (Quercous robur). The issue will be settled when the tree next produces acorns and the peduncle, or stalk, shows one variety or the other.

Individual Garrys can grow up to 65 feet tall with lifespans of some 500 years. Wow, that’s old.

“It may be pushing 200,” Roush says of the Moritani tree. “It takes them a long time to get that big.”

The four-day restoration project targeted “weeds of concern” – trees not yet formally added to the invasives list, but trending toward nuisance.

Out: English horse chestnuts, a black locust, English hawthorn and various bird cherries – non-natives all – and a handful of young Douglas firs that were volunteering at the edges of the preserve’s central meadow.

Going in: Oregon grape and a white-flowering serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea), a native pollinator known for its clusters of edible berries in summer. New Garrys will be planted in the area of the oak.

“It will have native companions,” Roush says, “and when he passes, he’ll also be replaced by a Garry oak.”

Moritani Oak EarthCorps work party 2A five-person crew from Seattle-based EarthCorps boosted the project, clearing debris and wrenching out invasives from the Moritani forest floor.

The Moritani Preserve was created by a donation on the site of a historic Japanese American farmstead, and recently celebrated its fifth birthday. Restoration under an updated five-year management plan will resume this winter with thinning of stressed, monocultural fir stands along the west and north park boundaries.

Donations to support the work can be made to the dedicated Friends of Moritani Preserve Fund through the Bainbridge Island Parks & Trails Foundation. The Foundation is raising $20,000 for the next phase of the project.

Moritani Preserve“Every time I walk through Moritani Preserve, I reflect on what a gift it is to have this green treasure right in the heart of downtown,” says Mary Meier, Parks & Trails Foundation executive director. “It is so gratifying to see people who live and work downtown show up at work parties and support this next phase by learning, volunteering, and giving so generously.”

SUPPORT MORITANI PRESERVE RESTORATION: Make a gift to the Moritani Preserve restoration and stewardship through the Bainbridge Island Parks & Trails Foundation here. Donations support restoration of the preserve’s forests with thinning and introduction of varied native tree and shrub species in 2023.

*Photos and information provided by the BI Parks Foundation.

If you’d like to learn more about Moritani Preserve, read here: Moritani Preserve: a Cool Oasis on the Edge of Downtown Winslow | THE ISLAND WANDERER

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