Appearance''Quercus coccifera'' is usually a shrub less 2 metres tall, rarely a small tree, reaching 1–6 metres tall specimen recorded 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.
NamingThe kermes oak, ''Quercus coccifera'' is a scrub oak closely related to the Palestine oak 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 and larger acorns over 2 cm diameter.
It is called "chêne des garrigues" in French. The term "garrigue" comes from Catalan or Occitan "garric" 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".
DistributionIt is an important Mediterranean bush or dwarf vegetation, where the biome it dominates often bears its name. ''Q. coccifera'' form 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, but is almost always missing from elevated and inland areas, with the exception of the semi-arid interior of the Ebro Valley where it is the dominant species.
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.
HabitatIt is associated with several ''asparagus'' species, ''Crataegus monogyna'', ''Mediterranean dwarf palm'', ''ephedra'', ''myrtle'', several species of ''Junipers'' , ''Pistacia terebinthus'', ''mastic'', wild ''Olea europea'', ''sarsaparilla'', ''Rhamnus atlantica'', ''Rhamnus lycioides'', ''Rhamnus oleoides'', ''Rhamnus catharticus'' etc.
It is indifferent to chemistry of soils, living on calcareous, pebbly, stony and poor soils. A lover of warm weather, it starts to fail from 1000 metres above sea level. It is capable of supporting the continental Mediterranean climate with extreme temperatures and low rainfall, replacing ''Quercus ilex'' 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.
Kermes oak species grow 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, withstanding overgrazing.
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 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 ''Quercus coccifera'' is also multiplied by root suckers and layering.
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.
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 ''Quercus'' genus species to disappear when rainfall is lacking. Their ecological importance is as a habitat and food source in these areas for nesting birds, foxes, rodents and wild boars. It forms thickets, thorny and dense, some recorded as tall as five meters. It is sometimes accompanied by other plant species of the same size and climber plants such as asparagus or zarzaparrilla.
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