In May last year I blogged about some magnificent turkey oaks, Quercus cerris, in Llandaff Fields, Cardiff. You can read the post here.
Well if I thought that was a quirky Quercus, I have now seen one that is even more unusual – the so-called Lucombe oak, Quercus x hispanica ‘Lucombeana’. I first spotted it in January at the National Trust’s Dyffryn Gardens in the Vale of Glamorgan.
I thought at the time that you couldn’t really miss it, but when I went back in July I somehow couldn’t find it. Next time I looked at the earlier pictures and made a note that it was next to the rockery. I really didn’t recognise it with its leaves on!
How do I know it’s a Lucombe oak? Well, luckily there’s a label…
I had to Google this unusual oak and much of the information in this post comes from London landscape consultant John Medhurst’s website (see here).
Quercus x hispanica is a hybrid between the turkey oak (Quercus cerris) and the cork oak (Quercus suber). The French botanist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck first named the tree and, thinking it came from Gibraltar, called it hispanica, meaning Spanish. Although there is some modern debate about whether Gibraltar is part of Spain!
There are several different offspring from a cross between these two parents but all are big like the turkey oak and have the dark green leaves of the cork oak. The bark also shows a mixture between the characteristics of the two parents.
While the turkey oak always seems to be tall and statuesque, it strikes me that this Lucombe oak, while long-limbed, looks like a toddler wearing a grown-up’s long-sleeved jumper and waving the arms around.
The Lucombe oak’s leaves are very similar to those of the cork oak, much darker than those of the turkey oak…
The leaves look evergreen, but obviously they fell off last winter.
The Lucombe oak’s bark looks very variable, as if the tree is a chimaera with different parts of it having different DNA…
But I haven’t told you why it’s called the Lucombe oak!
Apparently the first Lucombe oak was raised in Exeter around 1763 by a nurseryman called William Lucombe. All true Lucombe oaks today are clones of that original tree, grown in some way from grafts or cuttings. Lucombe himself cut down the original tree but kept the planks under his bed, to make his own coffin. But according to Wikipedia he lived to be 102 and by then the wood had rotted so timber from one of his younger Lucombe oak clones was used.
Lucombe oaks have fertile acorns but as it is a cross they don’t grow true to the tree they fall from and show a mixture of traits of the original turkey oak and cork oak grandparents.
I’m sad I have never seen this tree in autumn, as I do wonder whether the leaves make any kind of spectacle of themselves before they drop. Although I suspect they just go brown and call it a day. I also wonder what the new growth is like in spring, but unless I make a huge effort to follow this Lucombe oak in EVERY season, I suppose I will never know…