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Plantarum, 82; and about the same number are described in the Nouveau Du Hamel, and by Smith in the article Quércus in Rees's Cyclopædia According to the Dictionnaire Classique d'Histoire Naturelle, the total number of species described by botanists up to 1823 was 130; of which one half belonged to America, and of these upwards of 40 to the United States. Humboldt and Bonpland collected 24 species in Mexico; Dr. Wallich and Dr. Royle have found nearly half that number in the temperate regions of India; and Blume found 16 species in Java. If, therefore, we take the number of oaks which have been described by botanists at 150, we shall probably not be far from the truth. Of these, the number indigenous to, or introduced into, Britain is, according to our Hortus Britannicus, 62; so that there remain 'to be introduced nearly 100 sorts. When it is considered that all the oak family are decidedly trees of temperate regions, and would probably all live in the open air in the climate of London, their introduction seems one of the most desirable objects of arboricultural exertion.
The economical History of the European oaks may date from the days of Theophrastus and Pliny; the importance of the genus, and the various uses to which the different species are applied, having been treated of in every work on planting or forest culture since the time of the Greek naturalist. Secondat, in his Mém. sur l'Hist. Nat, du Chêne, published in 1785, was the first writer who showed the different qualities of the wood of Q. pedunculàta, Q. sessilifòra, and Q. Taúzin ; he also made various experiments to ascertain the strength of the different kinds of oak wood; and endeavoured to prove that Q. sessilifòra was the Q. Ròbur of the ancients. Fougeroux and Daubenton, both professors, and members of the Académie Royale des Sciences, first pointed out the common error in considering the
wood of Q. sessilifòra, which is common in the old ecclesiastical buildings in France, as the chestnut. (See Mém. de l'Acad. des Scien. for 1781, p. 49. and p. 295. The first work on the American oaks which treated of the uses of the timber was that of the elder Michaux, entitled Histoire des Chênes de l'Amerique, published in 1801; and the best modern account of them is in the North American Sylva of his son, in 3 volumes, 8vo, the English edition of which was published in 1819. Bosc has also published what may be called the popular and economical history of the oak, which is entitled, Mémoires sur les différentes Espèces de Chêne qui croissent en France, et sur ces Etrangers à l'Empire qui se cultivent dans les Jardins et Pépinières des Environs des Paris, &c., in the Mém. de l'Instit. National de France, ler Semestre, for 1807, p. 307. In this work 50 species are described, of which 14 are considered natives of France. The Recherches Historiques sur les Chênes, and the Essai sur les Harmonies Végétales et Animales du Chêne, both by Marquis, contain some curious information on the subject. The elder Michaux's work has been translated, and some additions made to it, by Dr. Wade, in his Quercus, published in 1809. It is remarkable, that, in Martyn's edition of Miller's Dictionary, the part of which treating of Quercus was published in 1807, no notice whatever is taken of the oaks of America, except those which had been described in the Hortus Kewensis, though Michaux's Histoire des Chênes, &c., was published six years before. The Xmænitates Quercineæ, by the late Professor Burnet, published in Nos. 5. and 6. of Burgess's Eidodendron, 1833, and which occupies 25 folios of the immense pages of that work, is one of the latest essays on the subject, and, like all works that have been written by that learned author, is a very curious and elaborate production, though not so well known as it deserves to be.
Poetical and mythological Allusions. The oak was dedicated by the ancients to Jupiter, because it was said that an oak tree sheltered that god at his birth, on Mount Lycæus, in Arcadia ; and there is scarcely a Greek or Latin poet, or prose author, who does not make some allusion to this tree. Herodotus first mentions the sacred forest of Dodona (ii. c. 57.), and relates the traditions he heard respecting it from the priests of Ègypt. Two black doves, he says, took their flight from the city of Thebes, one of which flew to the temple of Jupiter Ammon, and the other to Dodona; where, with a human voice, it
acquainted the inhabitants that Jupiter had consecrated the ground, which would in future give oracles. All the trees in the grove became endowed with the gift of prophecy; and the sacred oaks, not only spoke and delivered oracles while in a living state, but, when some of them were cut down to build the ship Argo the beams and mast of that ship frequently spoke, and warned the Argonauts of approaching calamities. (See Hom. Odys., xiv.; Lucan, vi. 427. ; Apoll., book i., &c.) After giving the account above related, Herodotus adds what he calls the explanation of it. He says that some Phænician merchants carried off an Egyptian priestess from Thebes into Greece, where she took up her residence in the Forest of Dodona, and erected there, at the foot of an old oak, a small temple in honour of Jupiter, whose priestess she had been at Thebes. The town and temple of Dodona are said by others to have been built by Deucalion, immediately after the great flood, when, in gratitude for his preservation, he raised a temple to Jupiter, and consecrated the oak grove to his honour. This grove, or rather forest, extended from Dodona to Chaonia, a mountainous district of Epirus, so called from Chaon, son of Priam, who was accidentally killed there by his brother Helenus. The forest was, from this, sometimes called the Chaonian Forest; and Jupiter, Chaonian father. (See Virgil, Ovid, &c.) The oracle of Dodona was not only the most celebrated, but the richest, in Greece, from the offerings made by those who came to it, to enquire into futurity. The prophecies were first delivered by doves, which were always kept in the temple, in memory of the fabulous origin assigned to the oracle: but, afterwards, the answers were delivered by the priestesses; or, according to Suidas, Homer, and others, by the oaks themselves ; hollow trees, no doubt, being chosen, in which a priest might conceal himself. During the Thracian war, a deputation of Bæotians consulting the oracle, the priestess told them that, “if they would meet with success, they must be guilty of an impious action :” when, in order to fulfil the oracle, they seized her, and burnt her alive. After this, the Dodonian oracles were always delivered to the Baotians by men. The oracular powers of the Dodonian oaks are fre. quently alluded to, not only by the Greek and Latin poets, but by those of modern times. Cowper says, addressing the Yardley Oak,
“Oh! couldst thou speak
Recovering; and misstated, setting right." And Wordsworth, in his lines addressed to a Spanish oak, celebrated as having been the place of meeting of the ancient lawgivers of Biscay, exclaims,
" Oak of Guernica! tree of holier power
Guardians of Biscay's ancient liberty." Milo of Croton was a celebrated athlete, whose strength and voracity were so great, that it was said he could carry a bullock on his shoulders, kill it with a blow of his fist, and afterwards eat it up in one day.
In his old age, Milo attempted to tear an old oak up by the roots; but the trunk split, and the cleft part uniting, his hands became locked in the body of the tree; and, being unable to extricate himself, he was devoured by wild beasts. (Ovid Met., xv.; Strab., xvi.; Paus., vi. c. 11., &c.)
The oak was considered by the ancients as the emblem of hospitality; because, when Jupiter and Mercury were travelling in disguise, and arrived at
Than that which in Dodona did enshrine
the cottage of Philemon, who was afterwards changed into an oak tree, they were treated with the greatest kindness. Philemon was a poor old man, who lived with his wife Baucis in Phrygia, in a miserable cottage, which Jupiter, to reward his hospitality, changed into a magnificent temple, of which he made the old couple priest and priestess, granting them the only request they made to him ; viz. to be permitted to die together. Accordingly, when both were grown so old as to wish for death, Jove turned Baucis into a lime tree, and Philemon into an oak; the two trees entwining their branches, and shading for more than a century the magnificent portal of the Phrygian temple. The civic crown of the Romans was formed of oak; and it was granted for eminent civil services rendered to the state, the greatest of which was considered to be the saving of the life of a Roman citizen. Scipio Africanus, however, when this crown was offered to him for saving the life of his father at the battle of Trebia, nobly refused it, on the ground that such an action carried with it its own reward. Lucan alludes to this custom in his Pharsalia.
“ Straight Lelius from amidst the rest stood forth,
An old centurion of distinguish'd worth :
Mark of a citizen preserved he wore." Rowe's Lucan, book i. Shakspeare, when making Cominius describe the merits of Coriolanus, mentions this crown, as having been won by that hero.
" At sixteen years,
Coriolanus, act. ii. scene 2. Acorns having been the common food of man till Ceres introduced corn (Lucretius, v. 937., &c.), boughs of oak were carried in the Eleusinian Mysteries.
“ Then crown'd with oaken chaplets march'd the priest
Of Eleusinian Ceres, and with boughs
“ Bacchus and fostering Ceres, powers divine!
Who gave us corn for mast, for water wine." DRYDEN's Virgil. And Spenser alludes to this fable in the following lines :
“The oak, whose acorns were our food before
That Ceres' seed of mortal man was known,
Which first Triptolemene taught to be sown." Boughs of oak with acorns were carried in marriage ceremonies, as emblems of fecundity. (Archæol. Attic., 167.) Sophocles, in the fragment of Rhizotomi, describes Hecate as crowned with oak leaves and serpents. Pliny relates of the oaks on the shores of the Cauchian Sea, that, undermined by the waves, and propelled by the winds, they bore off with them vast masses of earth on their interwoven roots, and occasioned the greatest terror to the Romans, whose fleets encountered these floating islands. (Hist. Nat., xvi. 1.) Of the Hercynian Forest he says, “ These enormous oaks, unaffected by ages, and coeval with the world, by a destiny almost immortal, exceed all wonder. Omitting other circumstances, that might not gain belief, it is well known that hills are raised up by the encounter of the jostling roots; or, where the earth may not have followed, that arches, struggling with each other, and elevated to the very branches, are curved, as it were, into wide gateways, able to admit the passage of whole troops of horse.” (Ibid., xvi. 2.) This forest is described
by Cæsar (Bell. Gall., vi.) as requiring sixty days to traverse it; and the remains of it are supposed by some to constitute the forest on the mountains of the Hartz; and by others, to be the Black Forest of the Tyrol.
The beautiful fiction of the Hamadryads is frequently referred to by the Greek poets. The Hamadryads were nymphs, each of whom was
Callimachus, in the Hymn to Delos (v. 80.), represents
sighing deeply for her parent oak;” and adds,
" Joy fills her breast when showers refresh the spray:
Sadly she grieves when autumn's leaves decay." In Apollonius Rhodius, book ii., we find one of the Hamadryads imploring a woodman to spare the oak to which her existence was attached :
“ Loud through the air resounds the woodman's stroke,
I faint, I sink, I perish from your blows.'" Among the Celtic nations, the god Teut was worshipped under the form of an oak, or, according to others, Tarnawa, the god of thunder ; but these legends, together with the superstitions of the druids, belong rather to the British oak, than to the genus generally.
Properties and Uses. The wood of most of the species of oaks is, comparatively with that of other trees, hard, compact, heavy, tough, and durable; and, in most, the entire plant, and more especially the bark, leaves, and fruit, abound in astringent matter, and in tannin. The wood of the larger-growing European kinds, and more especially of the group Robur, is considered superior to all other European or American woods for ship-building. The wood of Q. álba, and that of Q. vìrens, are most esteemed for the same object in America. The wood of the group Cérris is also employed in ship-building in Turkey and Greece; more especially, as Olivier informs us, at Constantinople. The wood of the group I'lex is very heavy, hard, compact, and durable, and fit for various uses in mechanics and joinery. In America, the wood of Q. obtusiloba, the post oak, is considered as one of the best kinds for most purposes of construction. The wood of Q. rùbra and Q. coccínea has a reddish tinge, but is coarse-grained, porous, and not durable. In general, the evergreen oaks have wood of the finest grain; and the deciduous kinds of the group Rùbræ that of the coarsest grain. There is no purpose in the arts to which the wood of most of the species of oak is not applicable, when it can be obtained of sufficient dimensions; and the durability of the wood of the group Ròbur is thought to exceed that of the wood of every other tree used in ship-building, the teak alone excepted. Throughout Europe, and more especially in Britain, oak timber was used for every purpose, both of naval and civil architecture, till the wood of the pine and fir tribe came to be generally imported from the Baltic and North America, about the beginning of the last century. Since that period, the use of oak timber has given way to that of pine and fir in house-building ; but it still maintains its superiority in the construction of ships, and various kinds of machines; and even in housebuilding, where great durability is required. Oak wood is also still employed in joinery and cabinet-making.
The bark of all the species of oak abounds in tannin and gallic acid, and is, or may be, used in tanning; but, in Europe, more especially that of the section Ròbur, and, in America, the bark of Q. falcàta, Q. rùbra, Q. tinctòria, and Q. Prinus montícola, are most esteemed for this purpose. The bark of Q. tinctòria also furnishes a yellow dye, much used in dyeing wool and silk, and considered preferable to that of the woad. Medicinally, the bark of some of the species affords a substance which may be used instead of quinine.
The bark of Q. Süber furnishes suberine, the suberic acid, and a product by far more important than that of any species of the genus, cork; a substance which is not produced by any other tree whatever, in sufficient quantities to be applied to any useful purpose.
The leaves, the flowers, and the fruit, according to Bosc, afford nourishment to more than 200 species of insects, even in the neighbourhood of Paris ; and some of these insects are either valuable themselves in the arts, or they are the cause of excrescences, such as oak galls, which are valuable. The leaves of Q. coccifera afford nourishment to the Cóccus ilicis, a hemipterous insect, which is used in medicine under the name of kermes, and has been employed in dyeing scarlet, from the remotest antiquity, under the name of scarlet grain. This insect is produced, and cultivated for commerce, in the south of France, and in various parts of the south of Europe, and of the East. Oak galls, which are much in demand for the manufacture of ink and for dyeing black, are produced on most of the deciduous European species, and are very abundant on the section Ròbur; but the galls of commerce are chiefly produced by the Q. infectòria, a native of Asia Minor and the adjoining countries. All the smaller parts of oaks, such as the spray, buds, leaves, flowers, and fruit, may be employed in tanning; and, accordingly, the cups, or calyxes, of some species are in use for this purpose, more particularly those of the valonia oak (Q. Æ'gilops), a native of the Archipelago. The leaves of the section Ròbur are used as a substitute for spent tanner's bark in hot-houses; and being slow in decomposition, are found to retain the heat for a longer period than those of any other European trees.
The acorns of all the species are edible ; and, in every country where the oak abounds, they form the most important part of the food of wild quadrupeds of the fructivorous or omnivorous kinds, and of some birds. The wild animals most useful to man, which are nourished by them, both in Europe and America, are the wild boar, the stag, and the goat. In Asia, pheasants and pigeons, with other birds in a wild state, eat acorns, no less than wild quadrupeds. In North America, cows, horses, swine, bears, squirrels, pigeons, and wild turkeys devour them. Among the domestic animals which eat and thrive on acorns, the principal is the swine; but there are few animals and birds, in a state of domestication, Bosc observes, that may not be made to live and thrive on them, however unwilling they may be to touch them at first. In the earlier ages, there can be no doubt that acorns, in the countries where they were produced, were the food of man; and they are still, as we have seen, eaten in some parts of the south of Europe, the north of Africa, and the west of Asia. The kinds which produce the acorns most valued for eating are, Q. I'lex, Q. Ballòta, Q. gramúntia, and Q. E'sculus. The degree of bitterness in acorns, produced by the same species, varies exceedingly on different trees; and were any kind of oak to be introduced into orchards as a fruit tree, it would be advisable to select only the best varieties of particular species, and propagate these by grafting. There are even varieties of Q. Ròbur which produce acorns much less bitter than others; and we have received some from a tree of this species, in the south of France, which according to Dralet, are so sweet as to be eaten by the inhabitants. (See Recherches sur les Chênes à Glands dour, p. 178.)
The entire tree or shrub, in the case of every species of oak, may be considered as highly ornamental : the least so are the willow-leaved oaks, and the most so the lobed and deeply sinuated leaved kinds. The foliage, even, of the same species, and more especially of the deciduous kinds, varies exceedingly; not only on different individuals, but on the same individual at different seasons of the year. In spring, the leaves of many of the deciduous kinds are small, delicate, and beautifully tinged with yellow and red; in summer, they are broad and green; and in autumn, coriaceous, and of a russet brown, scarlet, or blood-red colour. Nothing can be more remarkable than the variation in the forms of the leaves, in the same individual, in some of the American species; those of the tree, when young, being sometimes