Friday, October 17, 1997
TREES OF LEBANON: TURKEY OAK
by Fareed Abou-Haidar
Although called the Turkey Oak, this tree grows in Central and Southern
Europe, and extends south to Lebanon. This is one of two main species of oak
trees found in Lebanon. This is the one that drops its leaves in winter; at
present, many areas of the mountains should be dappled with brilliant yellow
This tree has leaves that are up to 12 cm long (but usually shorter) and 3 cm wide, deeply lobed and with small teeth, glossy dark green above, downy when young and becoming smooth below. The bark is dark gray brown, thick, rough, and deeply ridged. The male flowers are in the form of long, drooping catkins, whereas the female flowers are inconspicuous; both are borne separately on the same tree in spring. The acorn is about 2.5 cm long, enclosed in a cup with long, slender scales.
Turkey Oak is susceptible to powdery mildew disease, which can cover the leaves with a gray powder but rarely damages the tree. In spring, a kind of processionary moth caterpillar build silken nests in the twigs of trees where they live by the hundreds. The caterpillars feed on the fresh leaves. Although obviously a part of Nature, these caterpillars can denude entire trees, weakening them. This is likely due to the loss of the balance of Nature in Lebanon, particularly the decimation of birds by "hunters." In addition, a huge caterpillar of another species, perhaps 10 cm long and as thick as a finger, occasionally will eat the bark and burrow under it, causing serious damage.
The tree can reach heights of 35 meters and spreads broadly to create a canopy almost as wide. It makes an excellent climbing tree! Unfortunately, such mature specimens are very rare and are usually found growing next to old houses in the mountains where the residents protect them. Most of the trees in the forests are apparently cut for firewood at frequent intervals. A cut tree can grow back from the stump, but this is not guaranteed. Thus, Lebanon is thick with tall, thin trees in forests but has few large specimens.
Three of the biggest Turkey Oaks in Lebanon grew within a few dozen meters of each other around an old house in the mountains southeast of Beirut, near Souk el-Gharb. The biggest of them (possibly the biggest in Lebanon) was perhaps 15 meters tall, had a huge trunk over one meter in diameter, and was estimated to be 150 years old around 1970. These magnificent trees, healthy after years of protection from caterpillars and "hunters," were thoughtlessly cut down for firewood during the war in the second half of the 1980s. Although one was able to put out new shoots and continue growing, the other two, including the big one just described, were unable to keep their root systems nourished without enough leaves, and died after attempting to put out new growth. For more on the old oak tree, see http://members.aol.com/fdadlion/oaktree.html
Although there has been a ban on cutting down trees in Lebanon, extra protection for these fast-growing trees is needed to allow them to reach state ly proportions within the lifetime of many Lebanese.