According to Al Keuter, a botanist who volunteers his time at the park, the red willow species is found only in California.
It was Keuter who first realized in 2012 that the tall willow tree — which for decades has been located near the pond close to the park's entrance — was, in fact, a red willow.
“If you’re not a botanist (willows) all kind of look alike,” he said. “There have been many eminent botanists that have gone by, and no one's noticed it.”
According to measurements taken by Keuter, the tree measures 56.4 feet in height, has a trunk circumference of 66.25 inches, and a crown spread of 39.31 feet — a rarity in itself, he said, as willows tend to grow out rather than up.
“The willow out at Quail Hollow Ranch is singularly tall,” he said.
Keuter said that when he realized what the red willow was, he contacted the California Big Trees Registry, an organization based at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo that officially documents the tallest and largest examples of each tree species.
When he contacted the organization, Keuter said, there were no examples of the red willow species on the organization's roster, making the park's sample the tallest on record by default.
Since the red willow trees are found only in California, he said, “there's a good chance it's the tallest in the world.”
On the heels of the red willow's recognition came news last week that the historic county park had received a $183,000 state grant to restore erosion damage along the reaches of Quail Hollow Brook as well as a myriad of other maintenance issues.
“The grant application was already in progress,” said Robin Musitelli, aide to 5th District Supervisor Bruce McPherson, of the timing of the news. “It just happened that two big things happened for Quail Hollow Ranch at the same time.”
According to Musitelli, the grant funds come the State Habitat Conservation Fund, and will be matched by Santa Cruz County for a total of $365,340.
The funds, she said, will be used on park improvement projects that include stream bank and stream bed stabilization, native plant restoration plantings, interpretive signage, as well as the invasive plant removal program.
The funds will also will help the park's fund summer camps, interpretive programs, and nest box monitoring.
It is anticipated that the restoration work will begin next summer and be completed in late fall, Musitelli said.
“This national recognition and state grant are welcome, well deserved, and critically important for our very special Quail Hollow Ranch County Park,” said McPherson in a statement. “The County has worked very hard to sustain this ecological jewel as envisioned by the original owners.”