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Quercus coccifera

Kermes oak

Kermes oak (Eng), coscoja, chaparro, maraña (Spa), garric (Cat), abaritza (Baq), carrasco, carrasqueira (Glg), carrasco, carrasqueiro (Por).

Native

DID YOU KNOW...? A scale insect that attacks this plant gives the Kermes oak its species name. A crimson colouring (cochineal) can be extracted from this bug, which was widely used in ancient times for dyeing clothes.

DESCRIPTION

The Kermes oak is usually a dense, branching, thorny shrub, up to 2 m tall. On occasion it reaches tree size, getting up to 10-12 m in height, e.g., in the eastern Mediterranean, the Serra da Arrábida range in Portugal, and in some parts of North Africa and the Sierra Morena range. The bark is ash grey and smooth, although it does crack with age. The leaves are usually 1.5-5 cm long and 1-2 cm wide; they are simple, persistent, oval or elliptical and prickly, as they have spiny teeth on the margin. They are smooth and naked on both sides, a feature that can be seen clearly in adult leaves. This property, together with their colour, which is not as dark a green as that of the holm oak, is what distinguishes this species, as the two are easy to mix up, principally when they form low-lying stands, as their ecology sometimes coincides. The Kermes oak could also be confused with holly (Ilex aquifolium L.), although holly leaves are bigger and darker green, the fruit is globose and red when ripe, and it inhabits humid forests. The male flowers of the Kermes oak grow in long, hanging, ochre-coloured clusters, known as catkins, which appear in spring. The acorns are bitter and their cup, or husk, has spiny protruding scales, especially the upper ones, unlike other native Quercus species.

ECOLOGY

This species is indifferent to its substrate although it does best on basic soils, even tolerating chalky ones. It grows on dry, stony ground and withstands extended droughts well, replacing holm oaks in these conditions. It does not like frosts and is a species that is adapted to fire. Thick forests of Kermes oaks often form a dense, prickly thicket that resprouts vigorously after fire. It is exceptionally important ecologically, as it is a haven for numerous species of fauna, as well as protecting and forming soil. It ranges from sea level up to 1000-1200 m altitude, where it develops a creeping form. It forms pure groups or lives together with, especially, holm oaks, junipers, wild olive trees, European fan palms, and carob trees.

DISTRIBUTION

The Kermes oak is naturally distributed throughout the Mediterranean, becoming more common in the west. On the Iberian Peninsula it is more abundant in the south and east, being scarcer in the rest of the territory.