Oak Open Days in Argentina

The group at Estancia San Miguel - Photo: © Gustavo Belen

The first IOS Oak Open Day event south of the Equator took place April 22-24, 2016 in Argentina. Originally planned as a two-day event, visiting the two principal oak collections in South America, a third day was added to include a visit to Argentina’s first commercial truffle-oak plantation. A combined total of 55 persons attended the event, with several attendees participating in one or two of the days: a core of 17 stayed the entire course and visited all three locations (the metaphor is apt, and indeed the event might have been called the Argentine Oak Rally, as participants covered about 450 km getting from starting point to end point, without counting travel to and from home!). The point of this particular OOD was not so much to get IOS members together as to spread the oak gospel to the uninitiated; while we had a full turnout of local members from Argentina and Uruguay (four, one unable to come but ably

Quercus ×hickelii (robur × pontica) catching the autumn sunshine in Grigadale - Photo: © Ana Pessio

represented by an enthusiastic stand in), members were far outnumbered by guests.

Day One took place at Grigadale Arboretum, whose oaks were planted by late IOS member Duncan Cameron. Activities began with a presentation that provided a brief introduction to the genus, under the title “An Invitation to Quercophilia.” The morning was spent meandering along the path that runs through the quercetum, where established trees of close to 100 taxa are closely packed into about 1 hectare. Highlights were a Quercus baloot, grown from seed collected by Shaun Haddock in Pakistan, and presumed to be the ex situ champion of the species; a Q. dentata that has responded well to corrective pruning; a thriving Q. ×warburgii with mottled acorns; and a young Q. leucotrichophora much admired for the pale undersides of its leaves. We saw a new plantation featuring Asian species and ended the morning with an aperitif amongst a stand of Q. palustris that were just beginning to turn color. We returned to the main house for lunch, after which we convened under a cork oak, the largest oak in the arboretum, planted in 1992, for a group photo. The afternoon was spent at a plantation that featured many oaks and which, being close to Grigadale’s lake, had suffered losses due to flooding last year. After tea we closed proceedings relatively early at five o'clock, so as to leave time for the 275-km drive to Coronel Pringles, where most participants spent the night. 

Quercus dentata 'Carl Ferris Miller' takes the spotlight. Permeable plastic mulch is used for new plantings at Grigadale. An unexpected benefit is that the black 2 x 2 m squares eventually turn up on Google Earth images, making mapping of seedlings a lot easier! - Photo:© Beth Dos Santos Appetizers amongst Quercus palustris at Grigadale -  Photo:© Beth Dos Santos

The next morning we convened at Peter Laharrague’s arboretum at Estancia San Miguel, where Peter began by telling us of the history of the property and the arboretum, which includes impressive specimens of many different genera. Then the group started trekking around the 100-ha park, at first on foot then in vehicles

Fall colors at San Miguel, Quercus alba on the right

including a large people-carrying trailer pulled by a tractor. The tour naturally focused on the 114 oak taxa represented in 7 different querceta, but also took time to admire impressive specimens of “non-oaks.” Being further inland than Grigadale, San Miguel had advanced further into autumn with many oaks that were turning color: a jaw-dropping Q. alba won the beauty contest with a Q. ×bebbiana a close runner-up. There was jubilation when acorns were spotted on a Q. nigra, according to Peter the first time this species had fruited in his collection. After lunch we formed up for the group photo in front of a striking backdrop of Rhus typhina. The afternoon tour took us to plantations seeded thanks to IOS seed exchanges, featuring impressive specimens of Q. crassipes, Q. coccinea, Q. shumardii, and Q. dentata, among many others. The tour ended in Peter’s polytunnel, crammed with seedlings grown from acorns picked up in the IOS Conference at The Morton Arboretum. To close the day, a smorgasbord of acorns was offered to all participants, with acorns from both collections we had visited: 47 different taxa.

Quercus crassipes, one of the fastest growers at San Miguel  Getting a feel of the pubescent undersides of the leaves on Quercus aliena 
The tractor-hauled people-carrier trailer driving through Quercetum #4 at San Miguel The convoy sets out across the arboretum at San Miguel, Peter's Russian jeep up front 

Sunday 24th saw us 150 km to the north-west, in Espartillar, where we visited the 50-hectare truffle-oak plantation of Trufas del Nuevo Mundo (more info here). After an introductory presentation where we learnt about truffle production and the characteristics of the commercial project, we braved a stiff, chilly breeze to visit the planting of over 20,000 trees, principally Q. robur and Q. ilex. It is an exciting time as the first truffles are likely to be found soon, even this coming winter. Around several trees we could see the area of weed-free soil, known as brûlé (“burnt” in French), which indicates the presence of the truffle fungus underground.

Trufficulturist Agustín Lagos showing us the plantation at Trufas del Nuevo Mundo Scorched earth around the truffle oak (brûlé), a good indication that truffles are growing
Some of the older trees in the plantation Truffle oaks stretching over 50 hectares 

Thanks are due to Peter Laharrague for receiving us at San Miguel with flawless logistics, and to the folk at Trufas del Nuevo Mundo for sharing their impressive project. It was a memorable three days, and many seeds of “oak enthusiasm” were sown.  Further reports on the event will appear in Oak News &  Notes and the IOS Journal International Oaks.

Place mats for lunch at Grigadale featuring ark work by IOS member Keiko Tokunaga -  Photo: © Beth Dos Santos Discussing contrasting Quercus robur Fastigiata Group specimens in Grigadale - Photo: © Beth Dos Santos
A view across the lake at San Miguel - Photo: © Gustavo Belen Peter's seedlings from 2015 IOS seed exhange acorns- Photo: © Gustavo Belen
Seed distribution at San Miguel - Photo: © Marilyn Mulville Author presenting a seedling of Quercus pringlei to Peter (an apt gift: San Miguel lies in the department of Coronel Pringles...) - Photo: © Gustavo Belen

Photos: © Roderick Cameron unless specified