Kermes oak

(Quercus coccifera L.)
The general distribution of the Kermes oak is in the Mediterranean, Portugal.
P-United Ltd

Distribution of the species

The general distribution of the Kermes oak is in the Mediterranean, Portugal. In Bulgaria is the northern limit of distribution of the species. It is found in the Struma Valley, south of the Kresna Gorge – in the foothills of Malashevska Mts. at Kamenitsa village and the southern foothills of Pirin Mts.; eastwards from Pirinska Bistritsa river, near Kalimantsi village (southern slopes of St. Ilia hill) and near Petrovo, Kulata and Novo Hodzhovo villages. Single trees occur also in the valley of Mesta River, between Garmen and Debren villages, Gotse Delchev municipality. Subspontaneously the species occurs also in East Rhodopes, near Sredna Kayaloba where it is believed to have been planted by people; 90-850 m alt.

It is the dominant species of shrublands, which occupy a large part of the area of Mt. Paggaio. The tall, old oaks close to the Eikosifoinissa Monastery are important features of the landscape. It is a sacred forest stand, preserved to this day, as it had not previously suffered from firewood collection or other significant disturbance.

Description of the species (biological and ecological features)

It is an evergreen, slow-growing tree, 12-15 m tall. In the area, it is usually shrubby. The leaves are hard, leathery, usually bare on both surfaces, broadly ovate or oblong, with wavy edges, spiny or smooth. The fruit (nut) of the kermes oak is brown (ripe), cylindrical, surrounded by a wooden thorny cup at its base. The fruits ripen in two years (September – November) and they fall immediately after that time. It is a species of the Mediterranean basin, the most common species of oak in the region, with a particularly high altitudinal and ecological distribution range. Oligotrophic, thermophilic, photophilous and drought-resistant, kermes oak can grow in several geological substrates. It is a key component of the evergreen formations of the Mediterranean and Sub-Mediterranean shrublands (maquis & pseudomaquis), often dominant, depending on the conditions, in dense formations. It has developed special mechanisms to survive the dry Mediterranean climatic conditions; deep roots, leathery leaves with thorny edges, the ability to create young shoots immediately after cutting or after fires. In the past, the collection of leaves with red protuberances (galls), the “prinokoukia”, which were used to dye threads in light red color, also played an important economic role. The color comes from the female individuals of the insect Kermes ilicis (from which it derives its common name in many languages (Kermeseiche, Kermes oak) and which forms the “prinokoukia”. Theophrastus did not fail to mention these galls, which, however, he mistakenly considered as a kind of fruit, while Dioscorides refers to “dye grain”, describing the kermes oak. In order to consider the value of this dye, it would suffice to mention that the name of the color “red” was derived from the grains from which the dye was produced. This dye, later known as “kremezi”, was used to dye wool, leather, and silk fabrics. However, the price of the paint was quite high, so it was considered a privilege of the wealthy people.

Conservation status

Protected species under the Red Book of Republic of Bulgaria.

Conservation state

Quercus coccifera is a protected species under the Biodiversity Act (BDA), included in Annex 3 of this Act. It is included in the Red Book of Republic of Bulgaria (2015) with the category “Endangered”, as well as in the Red List of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) – with the category “Slightly affected”. “(LC) – Least Concern.

The species forms a natural habitat “Shrubs and low woods of of Kermes Oak (Quercus coccifera)”, which is also included in the Red Book of the Republic of Bulgaria (2015) with the category “Critically endangered”.

Kermes oak is assigned to the “LC-Least Concern” category by IUCN, which does not necessarily mean that the species is safe or should not be protected. It rather means that the species “is not in immediate danger of extinction if the current conditions are maintained”. The tree formations of the species constitute the habitat of national importance 934A: Greek Quercus coccifera woods.

*Note: For the description of plants is used information from: Peev, D. & al. (eds). 2015. Red Data Book of the Republic of Bulgaria. Vol. 1. Plants and Fungi. BAS, Sofia [English ed.: ISBN: 978-954-9746-21-1 (IBER – BAS)]; A practical guide for Identifying, Managing, and Monitoring of High Conservation Value Forests in Bulgaria. Sofia, WWF – Bulgaria, 145 pp.; the website of the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature).