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Oaks

Evolution, Biology And Ecology, Diseases, Distribution, Historic Importance, Acorns, Wood, Ecological SignificanceEconomic importance

Oaks (Quercus spp.), members of the Beech family (Fagacea), are trees and shrubs having simple, alternate leaves found throughout the world. Characterized by their strong, complex wood, wind-pollinated flowers, fruits called acorns, and their ability to live for centuries, oaks have played an important role in temperate landscapes. Of the 500 species in the genus Quercus, approximately 90 are found in the United States and Canada, with another 112 species in Mexico. Another member of the Beech family that is closely related to the oaks is the tanoak (L. densiflorus), which is found in California and is the only representative of this Asian genus found in North America. It has flowers similar to the chinkapin (Castanopsis) and bears acorns like the oaks, thus making it a possible evolutionary link between the two genera.


Because they are widespread and generally large, oaks have been used in numerous ways. The leaves, flowers, and bark were used by indigenous peoples in both Europe and North America for making medicinal drinks used to cure fevers, stop vomiting, and control diarrhea. Tannins extracted from the bark were used both for dying and tanning hides. The chestnut oak (Q. prinus) was logged to virtual extinction due to the high quality tannin it provided for the tanning industry.


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