Tuesday, August 24, 2010

One Species: Sand post oak gets the girl

Note: The "One Species" series of posts is meant to illustrate how oaks stretch to the breaking point the definition of "species" and state my (only partially tongue in cheek) contention that rather than two to four hundred species of oak there really is only one species with hundreds of varieties. In these posts I poke good-natured fun at the absurdity of the efforts of botanists to fit the square of genus Quercus into the round hole of taxonomy. But mostly the purpose of these posts is to contemplate the mind boggling potential of acorns as a food crop that could be unleashed if oaks only received 1/1,000,000th of the plant breeding efforts devoted to grain crops.

Here's a gem from Oaks of North America, under entry for sand post oak, Quercus stellata var. margaretta:

"Sand post oak is a variety of post oak and the characteristics of this variety generally follow those of post oak in form and growth. It occurs within the range of post oak, often intermingled, on dryer, sandy sites."

OK, let's stop here. So... sand post oak grows where post oak grows, and looks pretty much exactly like post oak. Doesn't that make it... post oak? To continue:

"It was named by Dr. Ashe, in 1903, for his friend Margaretta Henry Wolcott, who later became Mrs. Ashe."


That Dr. Ashe was one smooth operator! But I'm not sure that we should be accepting new named varieties of oak just to help some taxonomist improve his dating chances - no matter how badly he might need the help.

Well, two can play at that game! In Northfield, Minnesota there is a population of bur oaks that occurs within the range of bur oak and which look exactly like bur oak except for a very subtle difference in the exact number of fringes on the acorn cap that only I have been able to classify. It is now officially to be known as Q. macrocarpa var. Alice.

I'm sure her excitement knows no bounds... better than having a star named after you!

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