Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum

Tree of the month: Pyrenean oak

Posted: June 2, 2023 at 09:54 am Author: Rosie Anderson Dan Crowley

Pyrenean oak (Quercus pyrenaica)

Oak flowers, borne in catkins, can easily be overlooked, but those of Pyrenean oak are well worth seeking out in June. At this time of year, golden male catkins hang like pendants across the tree, contrasting beautifully with velvety, green-grey emergent leaves.

The unusual habit of this tree helps distinguish it from many other oak species. Both in cultivation and the wild, plants often have a pendulous habit and several at Westonbirt have a weeping form, attributed to the cultivar ‘Pendula’. You may also notice the tree’s irregular crown and the zig-zagging nature of the main branches, which give the tree lots of personality.

Pyrenean oak Pyrenean oak

Both the common and scientific names of this species are misleading- despite the reference to the Pyrenees mountains, it is almost absent there and the name was in fact a result of a labelling mistake on original samples named by German botanist Karl Ludwig von Willdenow. This species is in fact found in western France, Portugal, Spain and Morocco; in sub-humid temperate and Mediterranean semi-arid conditions. Several adaptations, such as an extensive root system and hairy leaves, help it to cope with the climatic extremes of this region.

A frequent feature in the landscape here, the species is designated as one of the arboretum’s ‘Signature species’ - trees that, over time or by selection, have come to perform a particular role in Westonbirt’s landscape, owing to their size, location or number within the collection. Fine specimens of Q. pyrenaica and ‘Pendula’ are easily found in Silkwood on the Willesley, Broad and Waste Drives.

Find Pyrenean oak on Westonbirt's Arboretum Explorer map...

Discover our other Tree of the month blogs...