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Plant Focus

Quercus macdougallii
A rare oak endemic to the Sierra Juárez in Oaxaca

Quercus obtecta's hidden epithet uncovered

The epithet obtecta means hidden, covered, or concealed. Poiret used it in reference to the acorns of an oak he described.

Jean Louis Mari Poiret
Jean Louis Marie Poiret. Stipple engraving by A. Tardieu, 1825. Source: Wikipedia

Jean Louis Marie Poiret (1755 Saint-Quentin–1834 Paris) was a French botanist. His 1789 work Voyage en Barbarie was the result of a significant exploration in Algeria in 1785–1786, sponsored by King Louis XVI.  His other written works include Tableau encyclopédique et méthodique des trois règnes de la nature: Botanique (1819–1823, with J.B. Lamarck)  and Histoire philosophique, littéraire, économique des plantes d'Europe (1825–1829).

He expanded the Encyclopédie Méthodique: Botanique (J.B. Lamarck) by publishing five volumes of a “Supplément1 (1810–1817). In the second volume (1811) on page 2182, we find “Chêne à glands couverts [Oak with covered acorns].Quercus obtecta”:

Quercus obtecta description

Loiseleur3 translated the description into French as follows: C(hêne) à feuilles presque ovales, à peine dentées, très-glabres, luisantes; à glands pédonculés, presque solitaires, cachés dans la cupule. Or in English: “Oak with almost oval leaves, scarcely toothed, very glabrous, shiny; with stalked, almost solitary acorns, hidden in the cup.”

Poiret description part 2

The description by Poiret continues as follows: “This species is remarkable for the shape of its acorns, which are totally enclosed in a hemispherical cup, slightly open at the top, loaded with numerous stiff, overlapping, lanceolate, and acute scales; the upper ones are free and a little curved at their top. The twigs are ash grey, glabrous, smooth, loaded with petiolate leaves, an inch or more long, firm, leathery, very variable in shape, oval or lanceolate, obtuse or acute, glabrous and shiny on both sides, margin entire or with a few small thorny teeth; the female flowers solitary or geminate, axillary, pedunculated. The peduncles sometimes become thick and woody, bearing one or two acorns; the stigma divided into four reflective and persistent indentations at the top of the glans, completely covered by the cup."

The herbarium of Museum national d'Histoire naturelle owns some specimens from Poiret’s herbarium. Among them we found the specimen of Quercus obtecta, stored as Quercus coccifera L. 

Quercus obtecta specimen
Poiret's specimen of Quercus obtecta, with the original note "obtected" by later ones.
Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle, Paris (France)
Collection: Vascular plants (P)
Specimen P06861579 

On close inspection one can make out the epithet “obtecta” on Poiret’s original note, partially covered by another note added later.

obtecta obtected

The herbarium sheet was subsequently included in the herbarium of Alfred Moquin-Tandon, professor of botany at the University of Toulouse, France. It is not clear who the author of the handwritten note is.

Poiret’s last sentence is remarkable: “Cette plante a été recueilli aux environs de Tingis par Broussonnet” (This plant was collected nearTingis by Broussonnet). Tingis is the ancient name for Tangiers in Morocco. It seems to be a synonym of Q. coccifera L.

We find this ancient name Tingis in the epithet “tingitana” (Quercus, Iris, etc.), which means from Tangiers. The name Quercus ×tingitana is given by A. Camus, based on material also from Morocco.


1 Standard form in IPNI is Encycl. [J. Lamarck & al.] Suppl. (https://www.ipni.org/p/15194-2 )

2 Not page 182 as sometimes indicated.