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Plant Focus

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Dwarf cultivars can be ideal for a small garden. Here are three "mini oaks". 

Species Spotlight: Quercus look Kotschy

In honor of Dr. Michael Avishai

Quercus look is one of the least-known oaks of the arid mountains of the Middle East. It grows on Mount Hermon and in the Anti-Lebanon Mountains and Lebanon Mountains. It is a typical tree of the montane vegetation belt at altitudes of 1500–1800 m. In this belt, the dominant tree is Q. boissieri [1], and Q. look becomes dominant only in the higher parts. All other trees and shrubs of this vegetation are deciduous and include some Rosaceae (Prunus ursina, Amygdalus communis subsp. microphylla [2], Rosa canina). Phlomis chrysophylla is a dominant shrublet. They form an open, sunny woodland that includes a huge variety of perennials, bulbs, and annuals. It is a dry and harsh habitat: winter is cold and snowy, the soil is very stony—thus drains quickly—and there are no summer rains.

Q look
Quercus look on Mount Hermon

We have investigated Q. look on Mount Hermon during the past 40 years. It was hard to evaluate it in the beginning, since the area was overgrazed and most trees were reduced to shrubs, many looking like bonsai plants. In the past 30 years, the southern part of Mount Hermon became a proposed nature reserve and sheep and goat grazing were reduced dramatically. Trees grew and, starting in the late 1980s, bloomed and produced acorns. It was then that the late Dr. Michael Avishai could see clearly that these trees are indeed distinct and fit the characters of Q. look, a species described in 1860 by Karl Kotschy, who climbed Mount Hermon himself.

Q. look
Quercus look on Mount Hermon

Quercus look is the southernmost representative of mountainous deciduous oaks in the Middle East. Only recently, molecular work confirmed the uniqueness of Q. look and placed it next to Q. cerris (and not Q. libani, as had been postulated in the past). Indeed, some trees on Mount Hermon show intermediate characteristics between Q. look and Q. cerris.

Q. look and libani
Quercus look (upper) and Q. libani (lower) in the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens
Q. look and libani
Quercus look (left) and Q. libani (right) in the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens

Description: a winter deciduous tree, 4–10 m tall. If not cut back, the tree has one trunk, but obviously many trees have several erect trunks, evidence of them being cut in the past. The leaves are variable: elongated, shiny, roughly toothed, 5–11 cm long, often wavy. The leaf teeth are triangular, regular or irregular, and larger and fewer than in Q. libani. Blooming takes place in spring and the acorns develop during summer, ripening in September. By October the acorns are gone, dispersed by European jays (Garrulus glandarius) and rodents. The acorn is large; the upper cupule scales are erect, while the rest spread outwards or bend downwards. The nut is unique: it is slightly exserted or not exserted, dark brown, and flat or even slightly concave at the tip.

Q/ look
Quercus look on Mount Hermon, note the concave acorn tip

Cultivation: In the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens we grow several trees, which grow slowly like most oaks in Mediterranean climate. I believe that they would grow faster in colder areas. Since the tree grows at high altitudes, it is believed to be hardy enough for Europe and parts of North America. The key would probably be well-drained soil. We also believe that this oak would be a good candidate for water-saving gardening in semi-arid cold regions.

Q. look
A grazed Quercus look on Mount Hermon

Although there are now tall healthy trees in the southern parts of Mount Hermon, increasing cattle grazing is threatening the woodlands. Hundreds of cows are released in summer in the area. They do not allow tree seedlings to establish and they graze the smaller trees that become dense and shrubby.

Q. look
A multi-stemmed Quercus look on Mount Hermon, evidence of it being cut back in the past

Photos © Ori Fragman-Sapir

[1] For some authors a synonym of Q. infectoria subsp. veneris (See International Oaks No. 28, p. 75, footnote 2)

[2] For some authors, a synonym of Prunus korshinskyi