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QUEʻRCUS L. The Oak. Lin. Syst. Monæ cia Polyándria. Identification. Lin. Gen., 495.; Juss., 410. ; Fl. Br., 1025. ; Tourn., t. 349. ; Lam., t. 779. ; Gærtn.,
t. 37. Synonymes. I'lex Tourn.; Sùber Tourn. ; Derw, Celtic ; Aaack, or Ac, Saron; Al, Alon, or Allun,
Hebrew ; Drus, Greek Chene, Fr. ; Eiche, Ger. ; Eik, Dutch; Quercia, Ital. ; Encina, Span. Derivation. From quer, fine, and cuez, a tree, Celtic, according to Lepelletier : but, according to others, from the Greek word choiros, a pig; because pigs feed on the acorns. The Celtic name for this tree (Derw) is said to be the root of the word Druid (that is, priest of the oak), and of the Greek name Drus. The Hebrew name for the oak (Al, or Alon) is said to be the origin of the old English word Uan (originally signifying an oak grove, or place of worship of the druids, and afterwards, by implication, a town or parish), and also of the Irish words clan and clun. In the Book of Isaiah, xliv. 14., idols are said to be made of Allun, or Alon; that is, of oak. (Lowth's Trans.)
Description. The oaks are trees of temperate climates, mostly of large size, and, in point of usefulness to man, only to be equalled by the pine and fir tribe. The latter may be considered the domestic, and the former the defensive, trees of civilised society, in the temperate regions throughout the world. The oak, both in Europe and America, is the most majestic of forest trees. It has been represented by Marquis (Rech. Hist., &c.) as holding the same rank among the plants of the temperate hemispheres that the lion does among quadrupeds, and the eagle among birds; that is to say, it is the emblem of grandeur, strength, and duration ; of force that resists, as the lion is of force that acts. In short, its bulk, its longevity, and the extraordinary strength and durability of its timber, attest its superiority over all other trees, for buildings that are intended to be of great duration, and for the construction of ships. In one word, it is the king of forest trees. The trunk of the oak is not, in general, remarkable either for its length, straightness, or freedom from branches, except when it is drawn up among other trees. In an open situation, the larger species send out numerous very large horizontal branches, so as to form a head broader than the tree is high. The branches, in many of the species, are tortuous towards their extremities, and furnished with numerous twigs, or spray. The main root of the oak, in most species, descends perpendicularly to a considerable depth, unless the subsoil be unpropitious: but it also extends horizontally as widely as the branches; thus taking a firmer hold of the ground than any other tree, with the exception, perhaps, of the walnut, and one or two others. The surface roots, in only one or two species, throw up suckers. The leaves vary in different sections of the genus. In what are called oaks by way of eminence, such as Quércus Robur, Q. rùbra, and Q. Cérris, which may be considered as the heads of three great families, they are of a shape which is rarely, if at all, to be found in any other genus of plants. The lanceolate leaves of the willow, the cordate leaves of the poplar, and the pinnate leaves of the ash or the acacia, are to be found in many genera ; but not so the lobed and sinuated leaves of the oaks of the three sections above mentioned. In other sections, such as that represented by Q. Phéllos and Q. I'lex, the leaves are entire, and may be considered as exhibiting commonplace forms. In most of the species, and especially in the larger trees, the leaves are deciduous; but in some sections, as in Q. I'lex and Q. vìrens, they are evergreen. The flowers are in all inconspicuous, without corollas, and, in general, appearing with, or before, the leaves. The female flowers are, as in most amentaceous plants, less numerous than the male flowers; and, while the male flowers are, for the most part, on pendulous catkins, the female flowers are in many cases sessile. The fruit is in all an acorn; a name in common use, and a form every where known in the temperate climates of the northern hemisphere. This fruit is as distinct in its character and appearance from all other fruits, as the leaves of the common oaks are from all other leaves. The form and size of the nut of the acorn do not differ nearly so much as might be imagined in the different species. Whoever has seen an acorn of the common British oak would be at no loss to detect an oak of any species whatever, provided he saw its fruit; whereas in the case of many genera, such as Pyrus, for example, no man, not a botanist, who had seen an apple or a pear, would recognise as species of the same genus those trees which bore fruit like the mountain ash. In short, the genus Quercus may be as easily detected at first sight by its fruit, as the Abiétinæ or the Leguminosæ are by theirs. The acorns of different species differ chiefly in the largeness or smallness, roughness or smoothness, of their calyx, or cup; and in their being sessile or stalked. In general, the oaks of Europe have stalked fruit, and the oaks of America sessile fruit. The fruit of most of the species attains maturity in one year ; but in some two years are required. In all, the vital principle is but of short duration; and very few acorns, of any species, will germinate after having been kept a year. The rate of growth of the oak is, in most species, considered slow ; though this is not the case when it is planted on suitable soil. The most rapid-growing European species is the Q. Cérris ; and of the American species, in America, the Q. álba. The highest-growing species of oaks belong to the groups Ròbur, A'lbæ, and Cérris; but full-grown trees belonging to these groups, which have reached 100 ft. in height, are rare. The general height of what are considered large British oaks varies from 60 ft. to 80 ft.; and large American oaks, from 70 ft. to 90 st. The smallest European oak is the Q. hùmilis, which is seldom found higher than 3 ft. or 4 ft., and, according to Marquis, is often in the Landes, near Bordeaux, not more than 1 ft. high when it has attained its full growth; and the smallest American oak is Q. pùmila, which is seldom, if ever, higher than 20 in. in a wild state. The oak which attains the greatest magnitude is Q. pedunculàta; and this species also appears to be of the greatest duration, both in respect to its life, and to its timber. In ordinary soils and situations, no species of oak attains to maturity in much less time than a century. There are, also, few trees which, when raised from seed, are so long in producing fruit; though there are some exceptions among the European oaks; and Q. lanàta, a native of Nepal, we have seen in a pot, bearing acorns, at the age of three or four years. In general, however, the oaks that attain the size of large trees do not produce fruit till they are between 15 and 18 years old. Like most other trees, the oak seldom bears an abundant crop of fruit for two years in succession; and it increases in productiveness with age. All the species of oak push up shoots from the collar when cut down, but only one or two species from the root. In North America, Michaux observes, dwarf, stoloniferous, or creeping oaks occur, the multiplied shoots of which cover immense tracts of land. The meadows situated in the midst of the forests of America are burned annually, either by the Indians or the settlers ; who endeavour by this practice to produce a new herbage, not only with a view of feeding their cattle on it, but to attract fawns and other animals from the forests. During these annual conflagrations, the trees often take fire, and whole tracts of forest are destroyed. The roots of the trees, however, generally remain uninjured ; and those of the oaks, which spread horizontally, frequently send up shoots which produce acorns, when only two or three feet above the ground. These miniature oaks have been found by travellers, who, unable otherwise to account for their appearance, have fancied them distinct species ; but as their acorns, when sown, Michaux observes, “ have produced a taproot, like common acorns, without suckers or stoloniferous roots, it is not likely that there are any oaks in America which have naturally trailing stems.” (Hist. des Chênes, p. 5.) We have observed above, that oaks are generally considered of slow growth; but this chiefly applies to young plants, and as compared with the rate of growth of soft-wooded trees. After oaks have stood in good soil, and a suitable climate, for five or six years, they grow with rapidity till they have attained the age of 30 or 40 years, after which, most of the species live, and continue to increase in size, for centuries. The life of some species of oak extends to upwards of 1000 years. There are some oaks in Britain which are believed to have been old trees in the time of William the Conqueror; and Pliny mentions a Quercus Ilex which was an old tree when Rome was founded, and which was still living in his time. ... Geography. The oak belongs exclusively to climates temperate either by their latitude or their elevation; the heat of the torrid zone, and the cold of the frozen zone, being equally unfavourable to its growth. The common British oak, after being a long series of years in the Botanic Garden at St. Vincent's, never attained a greater height than a shrub, having to contend with the sultry climate of that island. It never shed its leaves till they were replaced by others, and had, in effect, become evergreen. A plant of the cork tree, in the same botanic garden, remained stationary for 12 years. (L. Guilding in Mag. Nat. Hist.) The oak grows naturally in the middle and south of Europe, in the north of Africa ; and, in Asia, in Natolia, the Himalayas, Cochin-China, and Japan. In America, it abounds through the greater part of the northern continent, more especially in the United States; and upwards of twenty species are found in Mexico. No species of Quercus has bitherto been found in Australia, or in any other part of the southern hemisphere, except Java and some of the adjacent islands. In Europe, the oak has been, and is, more particularly abundant in Britain, France, Spain, and Italy. in Britain, two species only are indigenous; in France there are four or five sorts; and in Italy, Greece, and Spain, six or seven sorts. The deciduous oaks are the most prevalent in both hemispheres ; and the evergreen kinds are almost exclusively confined to the south of Europe, and to the temperate regions of Asia and Africa. The number of sorts described by botanists as species, and as natives of Europe, exceed 30; and as natives of North America, 40. The latter are all comprised between 20° and 48° n. lat. In Europe, Asia, and Africa, oaks are found from 60° to 18° n. lat., and even in the torrid zone, in situations rendered temperate by their elevation,
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In Britain, the oak is every where indigenous. In Norway it is found at N. lat. 60°; in Finland, in n. lat. 60° 27'; in Livonia, n. lat. 56° 30' and 59° 30'; and in Russia, n. lat. 50°. The species found in these countries is exclusively Q. Robur L., including under this name Q. pedunculata and Q. sessiliflòra. In the north of Germany, and in the north of France, this is also the only species; but in the south of Germany, as in Austria, and in the centre of France, Q. Cérris abounds; and in the south of France, Q. I'lex, Q. Sùber, and some other evergreen species, are found. In Spain, as Captain S. E. Cook informs Q. Ròbur is the most abundant, and almost the only species in nearly the whole of the northern district of the country; extending through Navarre, Guipuscoa, Biscay, maritime Castile, and Asturias; but it is never found in the middle region. Q. I lex is the leading tree throughout the whole of the middle and southern districts of Spain; and the next abundant is Q. gramúntia, which requires a drier climate than the former. Q. gramúntia produces edible acorns, which Cook states are as good as, or superior to, a chestnut. These, he says, were the edible acorns of the ancients, which they believed fattened the tunny fish on their passage from the ocean to the Mediterranean. “ These are the bellotas which Teresa, the wife of Sancho Panza, gathered in La Mancha, where they still grow in the greatest perfection, and sent to the duchess.” (Cook's Sketches in Spain, vol. ii. p. 245. to 252.) In Italy, Q. Cérris and Q. Ilex are the prevailing species in the middle states, Q. pedunculata in the more northern, and Q. sessilifòra in the kingdom of Naples. In Greece and Asia Minor, we have Q. E'sculus, with the others before mentioned; and Q. Æ'gilops, Q. Taúzin, Q. infectòria, and some other comparatively rare species, are also found there and in the south of France, Spain, Portugal, and Italy.
The oak is never found in perfection except in a good soil, and in a temperate climate. Like almost all other plants, it will thrive in a deep sandy loam, or in vegetable soil ; but to attain its full size, and to bring its timber to perfection, it requires a soil more or less alluvial or loamy; and the European oaks are always most luxuriant, and produce the best timber, on a
soil more or less calcareous. No oak in the temperate climates is found of a large size at a great elevation above the level of the sea; or where the climate is very severe in spring. In the Himalayas, and in Mexico, oaks are found of large size on mountains; but then the climate, naturally hot, is only rendered temperate by elevation. All oaks whatever are impatient of spring frosts.
History. The oak, from the earliest ages has been considered as one of the most important of forest trees. It is celebrated, Burnet observes, " in story and in song, in the forest and in the field, and unrivalled in commerce and the arts.” It was held sacred alike by the Hebrews, the Greeks, and Romans, and the ancient Britons and Gauls; and it was “the fear of the superstitious for their oracle, at the same time that it was the resort of the hungry for their food.” The earliest histories that exist contain frequent references to this tree. The grove planted by Abraham, at Beersheba, was of allun, which Hillier considers to have been Quércus E'sculus; and he translates the words elon Mamre (Gen., xviii. 1.) the oak grove of Mamre, instead of the plane or terebinthine tree, as elon or ailon is sometimes rendered. In the like manner, “ the plane of Moreh” (Gen., xü. 6.) is said to signify the oak of Moreh; and the plane of Mamre, wherever it occurs, the oak tree, or oak grove, of Mamre. (See Hierophyticon, &c.) According to Jewish traditions, the oak of Mamre (Gen., xviii. 1.), under which Abraham stood when the angels announced to him the birth of Isaac, long remained an object of veneration; and Bayle (Dict. Hist. et Crit.) says that it was still in existence in the reign of the emperor Constantine. This tree, or rather the grove of Mamre, is frequently alluded to in the Old Testament ; and in Eusebius's Life of Constantine we find the oaks of Mamre expressly mentioned, as a place where idolatry was committed by the Israelites, close to the tomb of Abraham, and where Constantine afterwards built a church. The first mention of the word oak in the English version of the Bible appears to be in Gen., xxxv. 8.: –“But Deborah Rebekah's nurse died, and she was buried beneath Bethel under an oak : and the name of it was called Allon-bachuth :" literally, the oak of weeping. Numerous other instances of the mention of oaks occur in the Holy Scriptures, particularly in the case of Absalom, whose hair was caught“ by the thick boughs of a great oak.” (Second Book of Sam., xviii. 9.) Joshua, before his death, made a solemn covenant with the people in Shechem, and, after writing it in the Book of the Law of God, “ took a great stone, and set it up there under an oak that was by the sanctuary of the Lord,” as a witness unto them, lest they should deny God. (Joshua, xxiv. 26.)
Among the Greeks, the Arcadians believed that the oak was the first created of trees, and that they were the first people; but, according to others, the oaks which produced the acorns first eaten by men grew on the banks of Achelous. Pelasgus taught the Greeks to eat acorns, as well as to build huts. The oak groves of Dodona, in Epirus, formed the most celebrated and most ancient oracle on record; and Pliny states that the oaks in the Forest of Hercynia were believed to be coeval with the world. Herodotus, and nunerous other Greek writers, speak of celebrated oaks; and it was an oak that destroyed Milo of Croton. Pliny states that oaks still existed at the tomb of Ilus near Troy, which had been sown when that city was first called Jlium. Socrates often swore by the oak; and the women of Priene, a maritime city of Ionia, in matters of importance, took an oath by the gloomy oak, on account of a great battle that took place under an oak between the Prienians and other Ionians, On Mount Lycæus, in Arcadia, there was a temple of Jupiter with a fountain, into which the priest threw an oak branch, in times of drought, to produce rain. The Greeks had two remarkable sayings relative to this tree, one of which was the phrase; “I speak to the oak,” as a solemn asseveration; and the other, “ Born of an oak," applied to a foundling ; because, anciently, children, when the parents were unable to provide for them, were frequently exposed in the hollow of an oak tree.
Frequent reference is made to the oak, by ancient writers, on account of the use made of the acorns in feeding swine. In the Bible, the woods of Bashan are mentioned as fit for rearing cattle and feeding swine (Numbers, xxxii.); and it is supposed to have been from this district that the great herd of swine were driven by our Saviour into the Sea of Gennesareth. (Spreng. Spec. Bot. Ant., 17.) The Romans used acorns for the same purpose. In Strabo's time, Rome was chiefly supplied with hogs which were fattened on mast in the woods of Gaul. This mast is supposed to have been the acorns of the common and the Turkey oaks, and of the flex; but the word mast is supposed by Burnet, in this case, to have included the mast of the beech, and the nuts of the chestnut. Many laws were anciently enacted relatively to acorns. The Romans expressly provided by the laws of the Twelve Tables, that the owner of a tree might gather up his acorns, though they should have fallen on another man's ground. (Pliny Nat. Hist., xvi. 6.) In more modern times, acorns appear to have been used as a common food for man, as well as for swine. “Little as we now depend for sustenance on the fruits of our forest trees,” Burnet observes, “and great as is the value of their wood, the reverse was formerly the case : oak corn, that is, ac-cern, or acorns, some centuries ago, formed an important food both for man and beast.” (Amæn. Quer., fol. 1.) In the present day, the native oak of Tunis, Quércus pseudo-coccifera, is called the meal-bearing tree; probably, as Smith observes, from the use of the acorns as food; and F. A. Michaux mentions that the American Indians obtain an oil from the acorns of the live oak, which they use in cookery. Pliny tells us that, in his time, acorns formed the chief wealth of many nations; and that, in time of scarcity, mast was sometimes ground into meal, tempered with water, and made into bread. He also informs us that, in Spain, acorns were then brought to table to eat; and Strabo states that, in the mountainous parts of that country, the inhabitants ground their acorns into meal. (See Choul De Var. Quer. Hist.) During the war in the Peninsula, both the natives and the French frequently fed on the acorns met with in the woods of Portugal and Spain. The numerous herds of swine, which still constitute the chief territorial riches of Spain, are fed, Captain S. E. Cook informs us, on the acorns of the evergreen oaks, which abound in almost every part of the country. In the Morea and Asia Minor, acorns are still sold as food. Desfontaines seems to have relished those of the Quércus Ballòta, which are sold in the public markets of Morocco and Algiers, and eaten by the Moors, both raw and roasted. Michaux ate acorns in Bagdad, and speaks with particular praise of those which grow in Mesopotamia and Kurdistan, which, he says, are as long as the finger. He also ate and relished the acorns of Spain. (Michx. Hist. des Chênes.) The antiquity of oak forests is attested by the numerous trees which have been dug out of bogs, or raised up from the beds of rivers, after having lain there apparently for many centuries. Fossil oaks, which are particularly abundant in the Isle of Portland, in the limestone known as Portland stone, and of which there is a fine specimen in the front of the magnificent conservatory at Syon House, also afford proof of the great antiquity of this tree. An immense fossil oak was raised from the neighbourhood of the salt pits in Transylvania, in which the woody matter appeared to have been in great part converted into hard salt. Abundance of subterranean oaks have been dug up in Pembrokeshire; and, in the Philosophical Transactions, an enormous oak is said to have been discovered in Hatfield Bog in Yorkshire, which was 18 ft. in circumference at the upper end where broken off, and 36 ft. in circumference at the lower end; and, though but a fragment, it measured 120 ft. in length. The timber was perfectly sound; though, from some of the coins of the Emperor Vespasian being found in the bog near it, it is conjectured to have lain there above a thousand years, and may possibly have remained there ever since the great battle fought in Hatfield Forest, between Ostorius and Caractacus, A. D. 52.