Quercus coccifera, the Kermes Oak, is an oak in the Quercus section Cerris. It is native to the western 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, etc.
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 grows 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, supporting overgrazing. It blooms from March to May in weather still wet. It is easily propagated by seed (an acorn). The acorns waiting for wet weather to mature. It could be in late summer or already in the autumn later of summer drought (in October, November or December) of the following year. 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.
Nowadays Kermes oak presence became scarce, due to in weter zones it is replaced by larger sized species such as Holm oak and besides the last centuries excessive cuts were suffered for its use to produce charcoal. There are reduced populations. Its presence 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.
Its populations are typically 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 by poor rainfall in its area. They are very important ecologically because it is the only habitat in these areas providing protection and food (they have edible acorns, although with a very bitter taste) for nesting birds, foxes, rodents and wild boars. It forming thickets, and impenetrable thorny dense forests with copies of five meters high. It is sometimes accompanied by other plant species of the same size and climber plants such as asparagus or zarzaparrila.
It is an important part of the mediterranean bush or dwarf vegetation, to which often it gives name (Maquis, Maquis shrubland, Coscojar, Garrigue, Carrascal, Chaparral, Scrubland, etc); The garrigue habitat is sometimes replacing other oak's habitat when oaks are burned, cutted, felled or degraded. Quercus coccifera form monospecific communities or communities integrated with Pinus, mediterranean buckthorns, Myrtus, Arecaceae, junipers, Pistacia, Rosmarinus, Thymus etc.
It is located for almost all the Mediterranean Sea, especially in central and southern and eastern halves, missing almost always on elevated and inland regions, with the exception of the semi-arid interior of the Ebro Valley (200 m above sea level) where it is the dominant species. On the coast of the Mediterranean Sea mostly from Portugal, Northern Africa to Turkey. In the Mediterranean Islands, from Balearic Islands to Cyprus. It is common in Crete and can survive heavy sheep and goat grazing for long periods as a ground carpet a few centimeters high. The same in islands of Mallorca, Ibiza and the Iberian peninsula.
It is called Chêne des Garrigues (Garrigue oak) in French.
The term garrigue; comes from Catalan or Occitan for Garric (meaning twisted) the name for Quercus coccifera in those languages.
The spanish language term chaparro, meaning stunted comes from the Basque (Txaparro) with the same meaning. Its common spanish name chaparro, refers to its small size, a feature it shares with others species in their habitat, and Mediterranean climate not related species in other parts of the world, such as the chaparral communities from various parts of the Americas.
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 bug). The Latin -fera means 'bearer'.
See also 
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Quercus coccifera|
- Diccionario de la Real Academia de la Lengua (RAE) http://lema.rae.es/drae/?val=chaparro%7Ctítulo = chaparro
- Naturenet article with images and description of Kermes vermilio and its foodplant