Friday, November 28, 1997

LebEnv #42


by Fareed Abou-Haidar

There are two major kinds of oak trees in Lebanon, the deciduous Turkey Oak (LebEnv #39), and the evergreen oak, Quercus coccifera var. calliprinos, the subject of this article. It is a very handsome, slow-growing tree that grows into a dense, spherical shape. It has small, rigid, dark-green, serrated leaves and an initially smooth bark that becomes rough and furrowed as the stem becomes thicker. It readily spreads by seeds (acorns).

This species is scattered over the lower mountains of Lebanon, up to an elevation of roughly 1000-plus meters. It can form forests; there is (was?) an impressive grove in the west end of Aley, the foothills of the Meten and Keserwan, and Ainab, to name a few places. It is often found next to churches as large, old specimens.

This tree can grow to gigantic proportions and live for many hundreds of years. The most famous tree of its kind is in Ain Traz, a small village in a valley east of Aley. It has a trunk the size of a small room and individual limbs that would be considered huge trees by their own right if they were growing separately. The limbs are so extensive that they are supported by concrete columns! The canopy covers an area of several hundred square meters. I'm sorry not to be able to provide more precise details, as I was there only once, before the war.

During the ugly War of the Mountain of 1983, a radio station reported that the tree had been cut by the invading forces in an act of sheer vandalism. It was tragic news indeed. It was only in 1993, while visiting Lebanon, that I was told that the tree was still there! Obviously, the radio report was simply propaganda or based on unreliable sources. Before fleeing, the owner of the house next to the tree had sent a message to the attackers that they were welcome to loot the house but to leave the tree alone, and they obliged.

Unfortunately, many smaller evergreen oaks all over Lebanon, especially in areas affected by the war, were cut down. Unfortunately, they make good firewood. Although many of the trees will grow back from the stumps, it will be many years before they regain their former glory. In addition, many trees are undoubtedly being lost to the wave of construction ravaging Lebanon, and others can be damaged by intense forest fires.

(See other photographs from some of the areas mentioned above.)



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