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Fagaceae: Beech or Oak Family

This family has about 800-1100 species in 8 genera. Most individuals in this family are Oaks. Oaks are well suited for somewhat dry conditions and can thus be found in areas where wet seasons are variable. Mexico has the largest number of oak species of any country in the world. Most are found in a zone below the pine forests but above the dry-scrub zones. Oaks are found in deciduous forest biomes. Acorns are from oak-like trees.

Growing up I remember picking up acorns and dissecting the nut from the husk. This is one of the most easily identifiable characters of individuals in this family. However, there are a fair few species of beeches and chestnuts whose seeds look quite different. Almost all species have seeds that are edible, even if it takes a bit of preparation to leech the tannins from them.

Another species of interest is the cork oak, Quercus suber. Corks for wine are harvested by hand from this species. One of the primarly places it is grown is in Spain and Portugal. Here a tree is first havested when it is 25 years old. The cork regenerates after about 10-12 years and can be reharvested again without killing the tree.


Systematics:

Plants are monoecius (meaning they have separate male and female flowers on the same tree). Male flowers have from 4-40 stamen, 4-6 sepals and 0 petals. Female flowers have 3 style branches and are either solitary or in small clusters; they have 4-6 sepals and 0 petals. Leaves are alternate and simple. Ovary is inferior.

Noteable Species

Bur Oak (Quercus macrocarpa): This is one of the most commonly planted oak trees across the US.


Floral Diagram


Beech: (Fagus spp): These seeds are edible raw or cooked. But don't eat too many!


Chestnuts (Castanea spp): Whole communities of forest dwellers in the middle ages used to rely on chestnuts as a food source. They're edible and becoming more popular in traditional cuisnes.


Cork oak: Quercus suber: This is where our corks come from

acorn

Acorns: Acorns are the fruit of the oak trees. A husk holds the nut in place.

Genera of Fagaceae (from Wikipidia and T.J. Elpel)
  • Castanea - (8 species) Chestnuts. This group is found in the northern hemisphere primarilly in north-eastern Asia, southeastern Europe and eastern North America.
  • Castanopsis - (125-130 species) southeast Asia
  • Chrysolepis - (2 species) Golden chinkapin; both species found in the western USA
  • Cyclobalanopsis - (150 species) Found in southeast Asia
  • Fagus - (10 species) Beeches; found in north temperate east Asia, southwest Asia, Europe, eastern North America. Beech seeds have long been used is edibles. The seeds are rich in oils and high in protien. They are edible either raw or after cooked. However, care should be taken to not eat too many as the outer covering contains a small amount of alkaloids. One can also take the seeds and roast them as a substitute for coffee.
  • Lithocarpus - (330-340 species) Tanoaks or Stone oaks; all species, with the exception of L. densiflorusc, which is found in California and southwest Oregon, are found in warm temperate to tropical Asia.
  • Quercus - (500 species) Oaks; Oaks are widespread in the Northern Hemisphere. They reach their highest diversity in Mexico. Oak trees produce a fruit called an acorn. Most acorns are composed of a husk that holds the seed only on one side. Acorns are also edible. They are highly nutritious and rich in carbohydrates, oil and protien. However, most species contain a fair degree of astringic tannic acids. Tannins make the acorns bitter and depending on the amount unpalatable. Procedures can be taken to leach the tannins out of the acorns - the best method being to grind the acorn into flour first.
  • Trigonobalanus - (3 species) T. verticillata is found in tropical southeast Asia. T. doichangensis is also in southeast Asia (formerly in the genus Formanodendron*). is found in South America (formerly in the genus Colombobalanus*): * - (Nixon and Crepet 1989)

Works Cited:

K.C. Nixon, W.L. Crepet. Trigonobalanus (Fagaceae): Taxonomic Status and Phylogenetic Relationships American Journal of Botany, Vol. 76, No. 6 (Jun., 1989), pp. 828-841

 

 

 
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