Mount Tabor Oak is a tree that may reach a height of more than ten meters, and a trunk with a circumference of 6 meters. The branches form a spherical crown. The bark of the branches and the trunk is gray-dark brown and it is hard with deep grooves. The leaves are 5 to 10 cm long. They are stiff, ovate, with dentate-thorny margins. They are carried on a short petiole. The leaf arrangement is alternate. The upper side of the leaf is shiny, its lower side is covered with felt-like hairs (hirsut) that do not come off upon rubbing. Often there are typically shaped galls on the leaves. The tree is deciduous, but there are great differences between individual trees in the dates of abscission and sprouting. The oldest tree in Israel, near the tomb of Rabbi Abba Halfeta in the Lower Galilee, was dated to a little over 500 years.
Quercus ithaburensis blooms during March-April, upon sprouting. The flowers are single-sex, tiny, green, not prominent and pollinated by wind. The trees are monoecious, i.e. male flowers and female flowers bloom on the same individual. The male flowers are arranged along limp branches that are about 5 cm long. They are light green in color and are called catkins. They are arranged in groups and disperse large amounts of pollen that is carried by the wind. The female flowers are arranged in groups of up to 3. They are very small and are carried on short pedicles. The fruit is an acorn, and contains a single large seed, enveloped on its lower part by a cup-shaped lignified structure called a cupule. Development of the acorns from fertilization until the fruit ripens lasts 18 months. The acorn is large, up to 5 cm, but there are large differences between trees. The acorn is thick and truncated. More than half of it protrudes out of the cupule. The acorns appear singly or in pairs. The scales of the cupule are long, bent backwards or even involuted. The acorns ripen and fall in autumn. They lose their ability to germinate within a few weeks. Acorns covered by a layer of litter which protects them from drying germinate readily. Some of the acorns are dispersed by Eurasian Jays (Garrulus glandarius) which bury them in the soil as a cache, and thus “sow” them at the proper depth, and sometimes forget to collect them. During germination the cotyledons remain within the shell and the seedling sends a long radicle into the substrate and a shoot with leaves upwards.
Mount Tabor Oak is the dominant tree in the Oak-Officinal Styrax association and in the Oak-Atlantic Pistacia association which create an open forest. In this plant formation the trees are distant from each other, with herbaceous patches or meadow between them. This association is well-developed in expansive areas of the western Lower Galilee (the Alonim-Shefaram hills) and in the central Golan Heights (Yehudiya Forest). In the past, Mount Tabor Oak forests covered large areas also on the Coastal Plain, but these have been greatly reduced by felling. Remnants of this forest are found in the Sharon Park south of the Hadera Forest and in other places. Famous groups of large trees of this species that survived near holy places are found at Hurshat Tal in the Hula Valley and Khirbatal-Chearkas in the Sharon region. This thermophilic species usually grows at elevations below 500 meters. It has no special preferences for soil, and grows in lime soil, basalt, sand, etc. The global distribution of the species is limited to the East Mediterranean, between Turkey and Israel only.
In the past, Mount Tabor Oak trees were felled for coal production and their hard wood was used for production of various tools. They are also used for extraction of materials for tanning leather. In Arab villages oak leaf and acorn infusions are used against hair shedding, for lowering blood pressure and for healing eye infections. The acorn is eaten after roasting. Its taste is bearable, but not praiseworthy. Medicines for eye infections, wounds, and respiratory tract and digestive tract problems are extracted from the galls.
Trees of the Quercus (oak) genus are among the most important trees in the world. Some call the oak “King of the Trees”. The genus contains 450 species, 5 of which grow in Israel. Of these two grow only on Mount Hermon. Some oaks are quite tall, with broad crowns and are long-lived. Oak species are common as the dominant trees in deciduous forests of temperate and cold regions in the Northern Hemisphere, and in evergreen forests in Mediterranean regions. The Hebrew name is derived from Providence, and is often mentioned in the Bible as a symbol for strength, as a place of worship and as raw material for sculpting and for industry (oars).
The leaves of all the species of this genus are dentate or emarginated. Most have leaves that are larger than those of the Israeli species. The flowers are tiny, green, not prominent, pollinated by wind. The flowers are single-sex, the trees are monoecious. The fruit contains a single large seed (acorn), enveloped in its lower part by a lignified cup-like structure called a cupule. The tree blooms in early spring, and its fruits ripen in the following autumn or in the autumn of the following year.
Oaks are the most important source of wood that is heavy, hard and dense, strong and resistant to pressure. Its wood is used in art for sculpting statues and ornamentation, for furniture, construction, industry and for the production of coal. The Arabs of Israel used oak branches to make a shank for the plough, a yoke for the ox and a cane for the elderly. There is nothing like oak wood for improving the taste of wine. Materials for curing leather are extracted from the oak. The thick bark of a west Mediterranean species of oak is the source for the cork used for production of bottle stoppers. Different species of oak are used in folk medicine. The acorns of some species are eaten in times of need as “poor-men’s bread” after roasting. Oaks are also known as important ornamental trees. However, in Israel this use is limited.
The oak has 2n=24 chromosomes. The different species are very similar to each other. Another difficulty in differentiating between the species is the great diversity in the shape of the leaf, the trunk and the fruit within populations of the same species.
Written by Erga Aloni and Mike Livne