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Portuguese oak (Quercus faginea)

Diputación de Málaga

Portuguese oak (Quercus faginea)


It is a tree (up to 20 m high) with a wide canopy and marcarescent leaves. It is a deciduous tree whose leaves, once the vegetative stage ends, change colour, turns yellow on the branches and stay on the tree during the cold season until new leaves sprout during the following, when they finally fall. Young branches can appear covered with a fine cover of white furs. The leaves are a bit tough, they have an oval shape, almost round, with a toothed edge, generally with teeth or lobes near the base. They lack fur and are green on the beam and have fine and white fur on the underside. The flowers are little showy. Male flowers are grouped on elongated clusters called aments, of a yellowish colour and hanging. Female flowers are also set in aments, but with a very short peduncle. The fruit, the acorn, is like a nut with a tough cover. It is green at the beginning and turns brown when ripe.


It prefers calcareous soils on cool and aerated exposures. It resists to harsh climates: cold, drought and seasonal contrasts. In the Southern mountains, it can be found up to 1900 meters above sea level. In appropriate conditions, it can form pure forests (oak forests), but it is generally mixed with holm oaks, cork oaks, birch trees and conifers. In cooler and higher areas, it usually substitutes holm oaks. It is a common species from the shadiest and more humid areas of the Malaga mountain ranges. 


It flowers between March and April. The pollen is dispersed by the wind. The acorns, its fruits, ripen in autumn (from September to November) and represent a great source of food for many fauna species. The Portuguese oak is able to regrow from the strain after having suffered a shock like tree felling or forest fires. In autumn and winter, its canopy is yellowish toned, which helps its localization on forest masses. It usually exhibits some bulges on the branches bark known as gills and confused with oak's fruits, although they are not acorns. They are tumour growths due to a mosquito bite. The tree isolates the insect and wraps it in a bandage, the gill, in which its larvae develop without impacting the rest of the tree. When the larvae hatch, they prick the gill.


In the Málaga province, it is very common in mountain ranges with little damaged forest masses with humidity conditions common in Northern faces, slopes and valleys.  It appears in Sierra de las Nieves, the Ronda mountain range, the Genal valley, Sierra Tejeda, the Montejaque mountain ranges, the Cortes de la Frontera mountains or Camarolo, El Jobo and San Jorge saws. On the Great Path, it can be detected on stages 5, 6, 10, 11 and 23 to 28.


There is an oak type known as alpestris, considered as an endemic species of the Sierra de las Nieves. It grows at high altitudes and has a small population in Puerto de los Pilones. Those oaks, ghostly shaped, create one of the most famous landscape of this natural environment. Their old age, the continuous effects of frost and snowfalls, and the fact that they suffered charcoal in former times, are the responsible factors for their magical look, characterized by large and thick trunks able to bear canopies with small and disproportionate branches. 


The Portuguese oak is a species easy to differentiate from other Quercus. Apart from the shape of its leaves and the fact that its leaves turn yellowish on the tree, the presence of gills is noticeable. Only Portuguese oaks have gills.

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