Quercus coccifera

Quercus coccifera, the kermes oak, is an oak bush in the Ilex section of the genus.[2] It has many synonyms, including Quercus calliprinos.[1] 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 Cyprus and Turkey, crossing Spain, Italy, Libya, Balkans, and Greece, including 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.[3] 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 κόκκος, the kermes insect. The Latin -fera means 'bearer'.[4]

Kermes oak
Quercus coccifera.jpg
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Eudicots
Clade: Rosids
Order: Fagales
Family: Fagaceae
Genus: Quercus
Subgenus: Quercus subg. Cerris
Section: Quercus sect. Ilex
Q. coccifera
Binomial name
Quercus coccifera
Quercus coccifera range.svg
Distribution map
  • Ilex aculeata Garsault
  • Quercus aquifolia Kotschy ex A.DC., nom. subnud.
  • Quercus arcuata Kotschy ex A.DC.
  • Quercus brachybalanos Kotschy ex A.DC.
  • Quercus calliprinos Webb
  • Quercus chainolepis Kotschy ex A.DC.
  • Quercus coccifera subsp. calliprinos (Webb) Holmboe
  • Quercus coccifera subsp. cryptocarpa Svent. & Marcet
  • Quercus coccifera subsp. kryptocarpa Svent. & Marcet
  • Quercus coccifera subsp. palaestina (Kotschy) Holmboe
  • Quercus consobrina Kotschy ex A.DC.
  • Quercus cretica Raulin ex A.DC., pro syn.
  • Quercus dipsacina Kotschy ex A.DC.
  • Quercus dispar Kotschy ex A.DC., nom. illeg.
  • Quercus echinata Kotschy ex A.DC., not validly publ.
  • Quercus fenzlii Kotschy
  • Quercus inops Kotschy ex A.DC., not validly publ.
  • Quercus mesto Boiss.
  • Quercus obtecta Poir.
  • Quercus palaestina Kotschy
  • Quercus pentadactyla Bosc
  • Quercus pseudorigida Kotschy ex A.Camus
  • Quercus recurvans Kotschy ex A.DC.
  • Quercus rigida Willd.
  • Quercus sibthorpii Kotschy ex Boiss.
  • Quercus valida Kotschy ex A.DC.
  • Scolodrys rigida (Willd.) Raf.


Quercus coccifera is usually a shrub less than 2 metres (6+12 feet) high, rarely a small tree, reaching 1–6 metres (3+1219+12 ft) tall (a 10 m or 33 ft specimen recorded in Kouf, Libya)[5] and 50 centimetres (20 inches) in 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 in diameter when mature about 18 months after pollination. They are held in a cup covered in dense, elongated, reflexed scales.

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 Q. coccifera is also multiplied by root suckers and layering.


Quercus coccifera was first described by Carl Linnaeus in 1753.[1] 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".[6] Quercus coccifera is placed in section Ilex.[7]

Quercus calliprinos, the Palestinian oak, of the eastern Mediterranean, has been distinguished from the kermes oak by its larger size (more often a tree, up to 18 m) and larger acorns over 2 cm diameter.[citation needed] In Israel it is called the common oak (Hebrew: אלון מצוי, IPA: [a'lon ma'tsuj]) or the Palestine oak.[citation needed] As of February 2023, Plants of the World Online regards it as a synonym of Quercus coccifera.[1]

Distribution and habitatEdit

Q. coccifera bush in coastal area

Quercus coccifera 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 forms 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. 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.

The species grows on dry, sunny slopes. It supports both subhumid climates with dry summers or semi-desert climates with rainfall between 400 and 600 millimetres (16 and 24 in), 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, frequent 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 is indifferent to soil chemistry, living on calcareous, pebbly, stony and poor soils. A lover of warm weather, it starts to fail from 1,000 m (3,300 ft) 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 on sea cliffs and in windy areas where other species of Quercus or Pinus cannot resist the harsh weather conditions.


Flowering in the Castelltallat range

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 species of genus Quercus 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 5 m. It is sometimes accompanied by other plant species of the same size and climber plants such as asparagus or zarzaparrilla.

Q. coccifera 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.

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.

It can survive heavy sheep and goat grazing for a long time as a ground carpet a few cm high, and will grow higher as a bush or a tree according to how much the grazing pressure is slackened.


It is included as an endangered species in the Red Book of Bulgaria.[8]

Notable specimensEdit

In Cyprus village of Kalopanagiotis, the tallest tree of this species has grown to a height of 17 meters. The tree is approximately 700 years old.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d "Quercus coccifera L." Plants of the World Online. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Retrieved 2023-02-21.
  2. ^ Denk, Thomas; Grimm, Guido W.; Manos, Paul S.; Deng, Min; Hipp, Andrew L. (2017), Gil-Pelegrín, Eustaquio; Peguero-Pina, José Javier; Sancho-Knapik, Domingo (eds.), "An Updated Infrageneric Classification of the Oaks: Review of Previous Taxonomic Schemes and Synthesis of Evolutionary Patterns", Oaks Physiological Ecology. Exploring the Functional Diversity of Genus Quercus L., Cham: Springer International Publishing, pp. 13–38, doi:10.1007/978-3-319-69099-5_2, ISBN 978-3-319-69099-5, retrieved 2022-11-16
  3. ^ Young, Frank N. Jr; Kritsky, Gene (2002). A Survey of Entomology. San Jose: Writers Club Press. p. 9. ISBN 0-595-22143-2.
  4. ^ "Cochineal".
  5. ^ "Important bird areas fact sheet: Jabal al Akhdar". BirdLife International. Retrieved 2013-06-22.
  6. ^ "chaparral". Online Etymology Dictionary. Douglas Harper. Retrieved 2013-06-22.
  7. ^ Denk, Thomas; Grimm, Guido W.; Manos, Paul S.; Deng, Min & Hipp, Andrew L. (2017). "Appendix 2.1: An updated infrageneric classification of the oaks" (xls). figshare. Retrieved 2023-02-18.
  8. ^ "Quercus coccifera". Red Book of Bulgaria, vol. 1. Retrieved 19 January 2017.