Palestine Oak is the most common tree in the typical Israeli Maqui. This is a tall evergreen tree or shrub. When it is not damaged it may reach a height of 15 meters, a trunk with a diameter of 2 meters, a crown with a diameter of 30 meters and an age of up to 850 years (as dated for an oak called “Abraham’s Oak” at Alonei Mamre, near Hebron). Its leaves are small, with a length of 1.5-4 cm. They are dark green and stiff. It is a typical example of the Mediterranean arboreal trees and shrubs characterized by small and rigid leaves. The leaf arrangement is alternate (unlike the opposite leaf arrangement of Phillyrea latifolia [Broad-Leaved Phillyrea], which are very similar) and are sometimes somewhat undulating over their entire surface. They are glabrous and shiny on both sides. Their margins are dentate-thorny. The young leaves are soft, and light and fresh green in color. The leaf persists for 2-3 years, and then abscises (even though the tree is regarded as evergreen, i.e. it never sheds all of its leaves at once). In a mature oak Maqui, the ground is covered by a soft thick carpet of dead leaves, which decay slowly until they turn into fertile forest soil. Great diversity in the shape of the leaf within the population is prominent. The bark of the branches is light gray and the bark of the trunks is dark and grooved. The plant usually appears as a tall shrub, but after proper pruning it grows into a tall tree with an erect trunk and a round crown. Several groups of such impressive trees are known, which reach a height of 10 meters, for example around the sinkhole near Kibbutz Sasa, in the Bar’am Forest, at Khirbet Sartaba, Hurshat Arbaim on the Carmel, near the alter of Mount Betarim (where the individual with the thickest truck is found, with a diameter of 2.5 meters), near the tomb of Nebi Hazuri on the foothills of Mount Hermon, in Odem Forest in the northern Golan Heights, in the Alona Nature Reserve, Umm ar-Rihan, Ein Hemed and Alonei Mamre. The “Lonely Oak” in the middle of Gush Etzion is also famous. Its age was dated to 600 years.
Quercus calliprinos blooms during March-April, concomitantly with the sprouting of leaves. The male flowers are arranged in groups of limp catkins which disperse their pollen in the wind. The female flowers are tiny and appear singly or in pairs on small branches in the axil of the sprouting leaves. A year later the acorns become ball-shaped with a diameter of 2-3 mm. They are gray, similarly to the bark of the branches, and ripen only after another six months, in the autumn, into small brown acorns that sit within deep light green cupules. Less than half of the acorn protrudes out of the cupule. The scales of the cupule are erect. There is great diversity in the details of the fruit shapes. Nine different varieties have been classified based on the shape of the acorn and the cupule. The acorn germinates easily when it is buried in moist soil in the first weeks after it has ripened. The seedling develops slowly, but rapidly sends a vertical root into the soil.
Quercus calliprinos is the most common tree in the wild flora of Israel. It is an important component of the Mediterranean Maqui in the Galilee, Golan, Carmel, Samaria and Judea mountains. Its global distribution is East Mediterranean. It regrows after cutting or fire or grazing, but grows in the form of a low, multi-trunk, branched and dense shrub. Its leaves are not palatable to sheep and cattle, but in times of need, with no other food around (especially when the ground is covered with snow), they will also eat oak leaves. Testimonies indicate that the species was even more prevalent in Israel until its massive cutting for boiler heating in steam train engines during the First World War, which continued with deforestation for the sake of settlements.
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 cool-temperate 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 hard wood. Its wood is used in art for sculpting statues and ornamentation, for furniture, construction, industry and for the production of coal. The Arabs in 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