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Quercus coccifera, the kermes oak, is an oak in the Quercus section Cerris. It is native to the Mediterranean region and Northern African Maghreb, south to north from Morocco to France and west to east from Portugal to Turkey, crossing Spain, Italy, Libya, Balkans, Mediterranean islands, Greece, and Crete. The Kermes Oak was historically important as the food plant of the Kermes scale insect, from which a red dye called crimson was obtained. The etymology of the specific name 'coccifera' is related to the production of red cochineal (crimson) dye and derived from Latin coccum which was from Greek κὀκκος, the kermes insect. The Latin -fera means 'bearer'.
Quercus coccifera is usually a shrub less 2 metres (6.6 ft) tall, rarely a small tree, reaching 1–6 metres (3.3–20 ft) tall (a copy recorded to 10 metres (33 ft) in Kouf, Libya) and 50 cm trunk diameter. It is evergreen, with spiny-serrated coriaceous leaves 1.5–4 cm long and 1–3 cm broad. The acorns are 2–3 cm long and 1.5–2 cm diameter when mature about 18 months after pollination. They are held in a cup covered in dense, elongated, reflexed scales.
The kermes oak, Quercus coccifera is a scrub oak closely related to the Palestine oak (Quercus calliprinos) of the eastern Mediterranean, with some botanists including the latter in kermes oak as a subspecies or variety. The Palestine oak is distinguished from it by its larger size (more often a tree, up to 18 m) and larger acorns over 2 cm diameter.
It is associated with several asparagus species, Crataegus monogyna, Mediterranean dwarf palm, ephedra, myrtle, several species of Junipers (Juniperus, sabinas...), Pistacia terebinthus, mastic, wild Olea europea, sarsaparilla, Rhamnus atlantica, Rhamnus lycioides, Rhamnus oleoides, Rhamnus catharticus etc. The communities receiving several characteristic names.
It is indifferent to chemistry of soils, living on calcareous, pebbly, stony and poor soils. A lover of warm weather, it starts to miss from the 1000 above sea level. It is capable of supporting the continental Mediterranean climate with extreme temperatures and low rainfall, replacing Quercus ilex (holm oak) in drier areas where it excels in drought resistance. It also grows in sea cliffs and windy areas where other species of Quercus or Pinus cannot resist the harsh weather conditions.
Kermes oak species grow in dry, sunny slopes. Quercus coccifera supports either drought summers and semi-desert climate with rainfall between 400 and 600mm, with a maximum in the fall and spring. In its habitat summers are hot and winters are cold with the dry summer season with more than 35° C, occasionally reaching over 40° C. In winter the temperatures often drop below 0° C. It lives in areas with moisture produced by condensation fogs, many Ground frost on clear nights and sporadic snowfalls.
A very hardy species, it grows well in all types of soils as a shrub, withstanding overgrazing.
It blooms from March to May in weather still wet. It is easily propagated by seed, an acorn that lies dormant until germinated by wet weather. This might occur anywhere from late summer to late autumn or early winter (October, November or December) of the following year. The acorns are very bitter, varying greatly in size and shape from one specimen to another and tasting bad. Acorns can germinate even before falling from the plant, but Quercus coccifera is also multiplied by root suckers and layering.
Kermes oaks have become scarce, due to their replacement in wet zones by larger species such as Holm oak. It has also suffered from extensive culling for use as charcoal. It is the only food and shelter for wildlife in some areas, such as the Ebro valley and other dry areas where chaparral replaces oaks due to low rainfall.
Populations typically occur in desert regions without any inhabited nucleus because crops are not economically profitable and the climate becomes progressively more continental and drier and therefore end in extreme temperatures accompanied by slow-growing dwarf juniper species. It is the last Quercus genus species to disappear when rainfall is lacking. Their ecological importance is as a habitat and food source in these areas (they have edible acorns, although with a very bitter taste) for nesting birds, foxes, rodents and wild boars. It forms thickets, thorny and dense, some recorded as tall as five meters. It is sometimes accompanied by other plant species of the same size and climber plants such as asparagus or zarzaparrilla.
It is an important Mediterranean bush or dwarf vegetation, where the biome it dominates often bears its name (maquis, coscojar, garrigue, carrascal, chaparral, etc.). Q. coccifera form monospecific communities or communities integrated with Pinus, mediterranean buckthorns, Myrtus, Arecaceae, junipers, Pistacia, Rosmarinus, Thymus, etc.
It is located throughout the region around the Mediterranean Sea, especially in central southern and eastern halves, but is almost always missing from elevated and inland areas, with the exception of the semi-arid interior of the Ebro Valley (200 m above sea level) where it is the dominant species. It is similarly found on islands in the Mediterranean, from the Balearic Islands to Cyprus. It is common in Crete and can survive heavy sheep and goat grazing for long periods as a ground cover a few centimeters high. The same is true in Mallorca, Ibiza and the Iberian peninsula.
It is called chêne des garrigues (garrigue oak) in French. The term garrigue comes from Catalan or Occitan garric (meaning "twisted") the name for Q. coccifera in those languages.
The common Spanish name of Q. coccifera is chaparro, which refers to its small size, a feature it shares with other oak species in similar habitats in other parts of the world, such as the chaparral communities from various parts of the Americas. The word chaparro comes from the Basque txapar meaning "little thicket".
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- Young, Frank N.; Jr., ; Kritsky, Gene (2002). A Survey of Entomology. San Jose: Writers Club Press. p. 9. ISBN 0-595-22143-2.
- "Important bird areas fact sheet: Jabal al Akhdar". BirdLife International. Retrieved 2013-06-22.
- "chaparral". Online Etymology Dictionary. Douglas Harper. Retrieved 2013-06-22.