Do You Know How Many Oaks There Are?

This article discusses the number of oaks that are identified as unique species.
Do You Know How Many Oaks There Are? - Articles

Updated: April 5, 2018

Do You Know How Many Oaks There Are?

Quercus shumardii, the Shumard Oak. (Penn State Xylarium).

Working on the list of specimens in the Penn State Xylarium with their accepted names, and working on the Fagaceae family. When I got to the genus Quercus, wow!

According to The Plant List, there are 4,529 named species of Quercus alone. Of course, by far the majority of those are synonyms of the same species. The referees of The Plant List have determined that 633 of that number are legitimate, unique species and have designated them as Accepted Names.

The amazing thing about that, is that those of you who walk the woods often know how difficult many of the oaks are to identify at a glance. Sure, here in America we can tell "red oaks" from "white oaks" pretty easily, but 633 different versions of those?! And to think that botanists originally believe that they had discovered over 4,500 different species? That's a lot of differentiation.

That is a great illustration of how much variation nature provides us. As the taxonomists and geneticists do their work, they've determined that seven out of eight uniquely named species are really just morphological variants of the same tree.

At this point of my work, I've determined that Penn State owns 43 of the 633 different species. I had entered so many oaks into the database that I assumed we almost had them all. Was I wrong!

So many oaks, so little time.

Authors

Natural Resources Systems Analysis Forest Products Economics Wood Industry Operations Research Wood Identification and Taxonomy

More by Charles David Ray, Ph.D.