A few reference works on oaks


Several works are in existence, and most are available for purchase or can be downloaded from a website. Some are more useful that others, of course, depending on the interests and needs of the reader.

The best, most thorough, most up-to-date reference on oaks is the Guide illustré des chênes, by Antoine le Hardÿ de Beaulieu and Thierry Lamant (2nd edition, Edilens; cf www.edilens.com). The book is in two volumes, and expensive, but every serious oak enthusiast should own this reference, for it covers all the “world of oaks and oaks of the world”—450 species, varieties, and hybrids, locations and distributions, physical descriptions, ecological and ethnological information--accompanied by 4000 splendid color photographs. The first volume treats the oaks of the Eastern Hemisphere, the second, those of the Western Hemisphere. The English translation is in preparation; the French edition is available now. A bit of friendly advice: run—don’t walk—to your favorite bookstore and order or buy the edition of your choice! You won’t be sorry you did. 

For the oaks of North America, the best book for the layman is Oaks of North America, by Howard Miller and Samuel Lamb (Naturegraph Publishers, Happy Camp California, 1985.) The book covers all of the oak species of the United States and Canada, and also lists a key to 112 Mexican oaks as well, therefore living up to the title. Given in most cases are physical descriptions, ranges, scientific and common names, and hybrids. Almost every oak treated is also illustrated by photographs (full tree, leaf, acorn, bark, and twig detail.) Scientific names are not always up to date, but otherwise the guide is very useable, especially for field use. It can be purchased on Amazon for very little money, and should be in every oak enthusiast’s library.

The best regional treatment for North America is The Oaks of California, by Bruce M. Pavlik et al. (Cachura Press, Los Olivos, California, 1993). This richly illustrated volume covers all of the 20 or so species of oak native to California and nearby regions. It gives the usual information (physical descriptions, ranges, information on the different biomes and ecosystems of California), with a number of stunning photographs of the oaks and their habitats. The book is very reasonably priced on Amazon.

For a general treatment of the oak species of Asia, the best available guide, apart from the Illustrated Guide mentioned at the beginning, is Oaks of Asia, by Yuriy L. Menitskiy. Originally published in Russian, this work became available to readers of English from Science Publishers in 2005. Given are the systematics, geographic distributions, ecology, phytocenology, and evolutionary history of all of the presently known oaks of Asia, from the Caucasus to the Philippines. The book lacks photographs, but has good line drawings and maps. Weaknesses are that the classifications are not always those presently accepted, and, of course, the work was composed before the findings of modern genetic research were available. The book is available on Amazon for $$$.

Treating all of the oaks of the world from the perspective of a scientifically literate person is Glenn Keator’s The Life of an Oak: an Intimate Portrait (Imago Publishing, Ltd., Singapore, 1998). Treating not only classification and oak evolution, Keator also considers the ecology of oaks, as well as the oak as an ecosystem in itself, including mycorrhizae, insects (galls), and epiphytes and lichens hosted by oaks. Also described are the architecture of oaks, the many varieties of their leaves which makes identification so difficult, and their life cycle, from acorn to fallen titan. Illustrations include color photographs and maps, as well as excellent drawings by Susan Bazell.

The Life of an Oak is available in paperback on Amazon for very little, and every oak enthusiast should own this informative and delightful book.

An ethnobotany of oaks, Oak, the Frame of Civilization, by William Bryant Logan (W. W. Norton and Company, New York, 2006) gives an account of the partnership between oaks and human beings through the last several thousand years. Not only oaks as natural organisms and members of forest communities, but also oaks as a resource for people: fuel, building material, food (acorns), even ink. It contains everything you ever wanted to know about how people use and have used oaks, including such recondite details as how to make different joints in carpentry using oak timbers. The language of the book is elegant and even poetic at times, a book-length article in “New Yorker” style about oaks and human beings. The book is available on Amazon in paper back for almost nothing.

The Natural History of the Oak Tree: an Intricate Visual Exploration of the Oaks and its Environment, by Richard Lewington and David Streeter (Dorling Kindersley, London and New York, 1993). This British publication treats the ecology, physiology, and life cycle of oaks. Well illustrated with drawings in full color. This book is available in hard cover only, $$.

Two additional extremely important publications should be known to members of the International Oak Society. These are the Red List of Oaks and the Global Survey of Ex situ Oak Collections. (Ex situ means “outside of place,” i.e. not in the native wild habitat.) Both of these reports were prepared by the Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI), the former in 2007, the latter in 2009. Both documents can be downloaded from the website of the BGCI (www.bgci.org).

For the Red List of Oaks, select “Resource Centre” in the left hand column on the home page of the BGCI. When the resource centre page comes up, click on “our publications,” which is below the upper left picture. When the publications page comes up, click on “Status Reports and Red Lists,” then scroll down to the Red List of Oaks and down load it. The quickest way to get to the Global Survey of Ex situ Oak Collections is to type this title into the search window, which will take you to an area of the BGCI website which I was unable to locate alone. Scroll down 2/3 page and click on “download.”

In the Red List, 216 taxa for which good information was available were surveyed as to the viability of their natural populations. Of these, half (109 taxa; 29 critically endangered) were judged to be in danger of extinction if the threats that they face are not addressed. Strategies recommended for preservation are protection in ex situ collections (botanical gardens and preserves) and habitat protection and restoration, with involvement of local people where the species are native. Endangered and critically endangered species are identified as such in the list of “globally threatened oaks” on pages 9-27. Not all of the oaks in the list are threatened, despite the title.

The Global Survey of Ex situ Oak Collections is mainly a policy paper for accomplishing the goals articulated in the Red List of Oaks. Annexes 1, 2, and 3, pages 11-13 will be of most interest to members of the IOS. Annex 1 tabulates “very threatened oaks,” Annex 2 is a priority list for new ex situ collections, and Annex 3 gives a ranked list of endangered oaks in collections in botanical gardens around the world.