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Brief mention is made of this oak in previous editions, where, following Boissier, Hooker, and other botanists, I regarded it as a variety of the Kermes oak, Q. coccifera. Since then Dr Stapf has studied the Palestine oaks (Kew Bulletin, 1920, p. 258) and has come to the conclusion that they represent one type which may be regarded as a good species distinct from Q. coccifera, and to which the name Q. calliprinos belongs. This name was given by Webb in 1838. Other authors have made several species and several varieties.
Q. calliprinos differs fromjg. Q. coccifera in the large size it attains; it is occasionally a large tree with a trunk 3 ft and upwards in diameter; its leaves are larger and more oblong in outline; the acorns have larger cups (sometimes over 1 in. deep) the scales of which are linear or lanceolate-oblong, free from the middle upwards and covered with close grey down. It is a native of the eastern Mediterranean, including Algeria, and of the Near East.
During the campaign against the Turks in the first Great War, acorns of this oak were occasionally gathered by soldiers and sent home. Some were sent to Kew by Major M. Portal, D.S.O., from which plants were raised.
A sentimental and historic interest is attached to Q. calliprinos because it is the species to which belongs the famous tree known as ‘Abraham’s Oak’, or the ‘Oak of Mamre’. This tree grows at Hebron, just below the Russian convent which overlooks the Plain of Mamre, and it is the largest and oldest specimen of its kind known. It is popularly regarded as marking the spot where grew the tree under which Abraham pitched his tent, and on this account is held sacred by Christian, Jew, and Mahommedan alike. In its prime the trunk was 23 ft in girth. Dr Stapf, basing his calculations on the annual rings of a branch preserved at Kew, considered Abraham’s oak to have started its career about a.d. 1150, the time of the Second Crusade. Four hundred years later, when Belon the naturalist visited Hebron, he made no mention of this tree, although it must by then have been of goodly size. But apart from the circumstance that fine trees of Q. calliprinos were no doubt much commoner then than now in Palestine, the explanation of the omission of Belon to mention this oak is due rather to the fact that, at that time, the legend of Abraham was attached not to an oak but to a species of pistacia or terebinth.
Abraham’s oak was much damaged during the winter of 1856-7 when a great snowstorm occurred. In the streets of Jerusalem the snow lay deep for many days. The accumulation on this oak was so great that it broke down one of its finest branches, and it was from this that the piece now preserved at Kew was cut. Sir Joseph Hooker records that owing to the superstition that anyone who should cut or maim the tree would lose his first-born son, it was difficult to get anyone to cut up this branch for transportation.
Some recent works include this species in Q. coccifera without distinction, but its proper position is probably that of subspecies – Q. coccifera subsp. calliprinos (Webb) Holmboe (see Meikle, Fl. Cyprus, Vol. 2, pp. 1485-6 (1985)).