Art Gallery

Artists interpret Sudden Oak Death

Susan Frankel, Pacific Southwest Research Station & Janice Alexander, University of California Cooperative Extension

Trees are powerful symbols of growth and longevity so sudden oak death, caused by the exotic pathogen, Phytophthora ramorum, has evoked strong emotional reactions in the wake of destroyed tanoaks (Notholithocarpus densiflorus) and coast live oaks (Quercus agrifolia).  The unusual tree mortality drew significant media attention, with images of hillsides littered with dead trees near residences caused by a “mysterious” new tree killer. People that viewed the tree disease first-hand and others that only read or heard about it, reacted with fear, loss, anger and shock at the destruction of nature.  The tree mortality has inspired musicians, photographers, painters and writers to create; sudden oak death has appeared on CD covers, in adult fiction, children’s literature, and performance pieces.  In these works, besides despair, the poignant response to the threatened and actual loss of trees has often prompted people to affirm their attachment to, and affection for, trees.

The Pink Tree by Henry Brudenell-Bruce, at Delamore Estate in Cornwood, Devon, UK. 2012. Photo:  The Herald, Western Morning News. The Pink Tree

The Sudden Oak Death piano by Benjamin Christopher Martins, part of “Sing for Hope” placed at Park Avenue at Washington Avenue, Brooklyn, USA, 2011. Photo from The Sudden Oak Death Piano

Sudden oak death, the band.  Davis, CA.  A band that combines country western, punk and other musical styles.Sudden Oak Death, the band

O Oaks OH. Performance Art.  Montalvo Arts Center, August 13, 2009, Saratoga, CA. Created by Mierle Laderman Ukeles,  “O Oaks OH” is a response to the health of Montalvo’s land and focuses on the sudden death of some of its ancient oak trees.  A public Day of Gathering/Learn-In in Montalvo’s Historic Villa brought together scholars, spiritual leaders, experts and leaders to share their learning on both the perils of Sudden Oak Death and the ancient spiritual majesty of the oak.   The work was commissioned by the Montalvo Arts Center, Oaks, OH

Sudden Oak Death” from the album Moon Colony Bloodbath by John Darnielle and John Vanderslice. 2011.

Sudden Oak Death: ‘Bastogne’ and ‘The Breaking Point’. 2010. “asemic” PicSpam refers to a fan’s posting of screen captures from recently-aired television episodes. At the website, the challenge was to use those images to illustrate a song. In this case, user “asemic” chose the song “Sudden Oak Death” and illustrated it with images from the show “Band of Brothers.”Sudden Oak Death: 'Bastogne' and 'The Breaking Point'

Standing Ground” by Kelly Starr. 2008. Book of photographs.  Marin County, CA, USA. Bay Area photographer, Kelly Starr published a book of oak landscapes to capture the beauty at risk from sudden oak death. The book’s foreword is written by Matteo Garbelotto, sudden oak death researcher at UC Berkeley.Standing Ground

“World’s largest picnic table”by J. Gathorne-Hardy, Suffolk, UK, May 2012. J. Gathorne-Hardy, Suffolk, England set out to build the world’s largest picnic table out of wood from dead oaks on his property. He then invited the community to join him for a picnic. The table was built as a response to “sudden oak death” but the actual cause of death of the oak trees was not actually Phytophthora ramorum. The table, although quite long, did not turn out to be the largest ever built.Wrold's largest picnic table

Sudden oak death described in a short story by Alex Branson, published in 2012 by Housefire books.Sudden Oak Death short story

Tracks of an Oak Killer” by Jillian Walters. 2012. Illustration of bleeding oak accompanying an article in Science Notes from UC Santa Cruz.Tracks of an Oak Killer

Phytophthora & the Others” Song by The Wonderer 09, Denmark
Phytophthora & The Others album cover

Sudden Oak Death” Song by Folivore. Santa Cruz, CA.

Folivore cd cover

Sudden Oak Death” EP by Transport, 2006. Modesto, CA. Transport CD cover

Sudden Oak” CD covers. San Francisco-based band consisting of John Ward on lap steel guitar and Matt Erickson on amplified tenor sax.Sudden Oak Death cd covers

Wooden bowls turned from Phytophthora ramorum host trees. From left to right: California bay laurel (Umbellularia californica), madrone (Arbutus menziesii), and big leaf maple (Acer macrophyullum). Mark Stanley, 2013, Camino, CA.

Stanley bowls

Sudden Oak Death Syndrome“, by Ruth Thompson, 2015

The “Art of Saving Oaks” was an online invitational art show that took place February 2014 – February 2015. The exhibit used pieces by nine artists to capture the beauty of the oak landscape and educate and inspire people about Sudden Oak Death. Artists included Stephen Joseph (photography), Anna Dal Pino (oil painting), Kelly Taylor Starr(photography), Jeanne Lotta-Sellars (watercolor), Kathy Kleinsteiber (watercolor and acrylic), Lillian Murphy (watercolor), Bonnie Bonner (watercolor), Katie Bertsche (ink illustration), and Eliza K. Jewett (watercolor and digital).

The first “Art of Saving Oaks” was held in Sausalito, California (2002) with additional shows at Filoli Gardens in Woodside (2003) and at the UC Santa Cruz Arboretum (2004). This was the fourth presentation of The Art of Saving Oaks, exclusively online at, as part of the Visualizing Sudden Oak Death online conference, February 10 – 21, 2014.