Monday, August 3, 2015

Maquis and garrigue

Where we are born and raised for the first fifteen to twenty years of our lives makes an indelible impression on our senses; all five of them and then some. Even if we go to the ends of the world later in life we always miss our old self and surroundings. We search what we are familiar with to assuage our longing.

The natural scenery that I enjoy the most and feel the happiest in is the Aegean maquis and garrigue cover.


Maquis is a shrubland biome found throughout the Mediterranean region including southern Portugal, central-southern Spain, most of coastal Italy, Sardinia, Corsica, southern France, coastal but mostly western and southern Turkey, Lebanon and elsewhere. It typically consists of densely growing, sclerophyll (hard leaves with short internodes-distance between the leaves) evergreen shrubs and small trees such as anise, phillyrea, carob, broom, thyme, sage, rosemary, mint, lavender, linden, juniper, wormwood, rockrose, heather, smilax (aspera), laurels, asparagus, buckthorn, strawberry tree, holm oak, kermes oak, tree heath, arbutus, spurge olive, sandal wood, mastic tree and so on.

In many places maquis appears due to frequent fires preventing young trees from maturing.

Garrigue is similar to maquis but consists of a type of low scrubland in the Mediterranea generally near the seacoast, where the climate is mild but annual summer droughts are prevalent. Soft leaved vegetation tolerant to wind and salt spray from the sea is the norm. Garrigue vegetation is discontinuous with open spaces between bush groupings and perhaps a few low trees. Phrygana is another name for these scrublands. In California a similar Mediterranean climate ecoregion is called chaparral.

The name maquis comes from the Latin 'macula' meaning spot as in a spot of bushy land I presume. The term garrigue comes from Catalan or Occitan 'garric' the name for it in those languages and meaning ‘twisted’.

The Mediterranean region is a place of significant biodiversity. Kermes oak is among the endemic species prominent in the Mediterranean vegetation.

                                            The maquis at Heybeliada, Istanbul

Kermes oak

Kermes oak, Quercus coccifera, is an oak in the genus Quercus (Latin oak tree) section Cerris in the family Fagaceae.

                                         Photograph : Beste Barki         Photograph : 

This type of oak is usually a 2-3 meters tall shrub occasionally reaching 1-6 meters. It is evergreen, with serrated leaves 1.5–4 cm long and 1–3 cm broad. The leaves are softer and lighter in color when they are new but as they age they become coriaceous-still flexible but tough, leathery.

Kermes oak can form thorny and dense thickets accompanied by other plant species of the same size and sometimes climber plants such as asparagus or zarzaparrilla (smilax). It easily lives in pebbly, stony and calcareous, that is, lime and chalk soils. It is a hot weather plant that grows on dry, sunny slopes where the summer temperatures reach 35° C, occasionally 40° C. In the winters it can tolerate temperature drops below 0°C, ground frost and sporadic snowfalls.

It blooms from March to May when the weather is still wet. Kermes oak multiplies by root suckers and layering but it is easily propagated by seed which is an acorn that lies dormant until it is germinated by wet weather.

                                                            Kermes oak in bloom

Germination might occur anywhere from late summer to late autumn or early winter of the following year. The acorns are 2–3 cm long and 1.5–2 cm diameter when mature about 18 months after pollination. They are held in a scaly cup. They remind one of hazelnuts of which Turkey is the main producer in the world.

Acorns vary greatly in size and shape from one species to another and they taste very bitter. Birds, squirrels, rabbits love them nonetheless. In children’s story books anthropomorphic animals love to eat them and make use of them in very imaginative ways.

I’m learning that the Kermes Oak was historically important as the food plant of the Kermes scale insect, from which a red dye called crimson was obtained from the crushed dried bodies of the female insects. “The etymology of the specific name 'coccifera' is related to the production of red cochineal (crimson) dye and derived from Latin coccum which was from Greek κὀκκος, the kermes insect. The dye was used for coloring fabrics and manuscripts. The Latin -fera means 'bearer'."   (

                                                                                    Henri at Heybeliada, Istanbul (May 2014)

Various acorns


  1. Hi Beste - the Maquis and that wonderful dusty land full of interesting natural plantings always delights me ... lovely to see the photos and of Henri .. and the info re the Kermes insect - seemingly well known from ancient times ... cheers Hilary

  2. One reason I like the maquis so much, Hilary, is the thought of all the lives spent around them by the likes of people such as the Romans, the Ionians, the Lydians, etc.

  3. I love the maquis too. Read a book of memoirs recently where the author (in the 1930s) sailed up to Corsica and was bowled over by the smell of the maquis. I'd love to approach the landscape in a small boat so I can smell it too!

  4. I have experienced that smell which is fading out fast from memory.