Usefulness and services of the tree :
Linked trees - twinning
Features and characters of the individual
This particular tree is part of the Brussels Regional, National and Worldwide living heritage. It guards one of the doors to Egmont Palace. Its evergreen foliage sits above the railings and casts shade over a small paved car park.
A discreet signature
Cloaked in thick foliage, this stout oak tree quietly grows in a largely forgotten corner of the Egmont Park. Just 23 metres tall, passers-by barely notice this diminutive figure.
It must be said that the Quercus x Turneri does not have the size of our great oaks, the Quercus robur and the Quercus petrea, which live for centuries and easily grow to heights of 40 metres. What's more, it is somewhat dwarfed by its neighbour, ‘The Hotel’, towering 30 storeys above the park.
Nevertheless, this specimen is one of the listed trees of Belgium. It is the first to have been placed on the inventory of notable trees of the Region in 1999. And it is among the most beautiful monumental trees in the world. So, you don't necessarily have to be a centuries-old titan to earn the title of notable tree.
The beast of Essex
The modesty of this tree is all part of its charm. Because in its unassuming way, this specimen is quite exceptional. It was certainly planted around 1901-1902 by Edmont Galoppin, the landscape architect who applied his skills to the ‘Lawn of the Wild Boars’ of the Egmont Palace. Its trunk already measures 2.7 metres around: a record for such a relatively young tree.
Its plump, rounded crown helps define the landscape: it neatly frames the approach to the ‘Passage de Milan’. In the spring, its yellow catkins contrast prettily with the dark green leaves. The bark on the trunk has a silvery colour. It is crackled into small chunks that call out to be touched. But this tree is protected by the palace fence. Only the guard dogs trespass on its private space.
The scientific name of this particular species is Quercus x Turneri. Contrary to what some might like to imagine, the letter x in the name does not refer to any particular X-rated characteristics. Nor to Essex, its city of origin in England. The x in fact indicates that this tree is a hybrid. It was created in the late 19th century, from the pedunculate or common oak (Quercus robur), the most traditional oak in our regions, and the holly oak or holm oak of the South of France (Quercus ilex). As for Turner: it is named for an English botanist the creators wanted to honour at the birth of this new species. It has nothing to do with the famous English painter.
A refined sensuality
Like the holly oak, this individual keeps its magnificent coat of foliage on practically year-round. It shyly bares its skin only in early spring, when the new leaves sprout. A rare sight captured by the prying eyes of the security cameras that are continuously trained on it. Unlike the common oak, it is not marcescent (retaining its dead leaves): its branches are not covered in brown leaves in winter, but instead, with firm, vigorous green leaves. They start photosynthesising as soon as the temperatures allow.
In antiquity, the oak was a prophetic tree, the tree of the oracles, which conveyed messages from Zeus by shaking its leaves. This individual here will whisper gently in the ears of those who know how to listen to it. It shares its wisdom throughout the seasons. If you pass it, allow yourself to be gently lulled by its words. And who knows, perhaps the dryads, the beautiful nymphs who live in the oaks, will dance for you around the tree and entice you to join them.
The Turner’s oak inherited from the pedunculate oak leaves the small ‘auricular’ lobes: they resemble our own earlobes. But it has retained the more pointed shape of the holly. Thus, the outline of its leaf is more pronounced than those of its parents: an elongated oval with gentle curves but it is also more distinctly lobed and pointed.
Another distinction: its acorns are also fairly pointed. They are covered halfway up by a dusting of fuzzy scales. Who knows, perhaps these acorns taste just as sweet as those of the holly oak? There are no more boars on the ‘Lawn of the Wild Boars’ to find out.
Nature regains the upper hand
It's not easy for this Turner’s oak to reproduce. On one side of the fence, its acorns fall on the meticulously groomed lawn of the Egmont Palace. On the other side, on cobblestones (and on the roofs of cars bold enough to park in the shade of its branches).
Yet, a few acorns manage to slip between the cracks of the cobblestones. Along the wall, you can sometimes spot tiny plants that resemble holly. These are certainly small oak trees. The descendants of the Turner’s oak will gradually lose their hybrid characteristics. They have the tendency to revert to their origins either as common oaks, or as holly oaks. In this case, the scalloped, spiky leaves of these tender shoots suggest the latter.
For now, these mini oaks, which are about 3-4 cm high, don't ask for much. If the city were to give them the chance to grow… or if they manage to escape the brush cutters, who knows what they might become. To safeguard their future, you could take inspiration from ‘The Man Who Planted Trees’ by Jean Giono. Gather them gently and find a patch of nature in which to plant them. With your extra help, a little space, some light and the magical protection of the Dryads, Hamadryads, Oakmen and other Pillywiggins, they may live to see the next millennium.
This portrait is enriched with an illustration from the Belgian Federal State Collection on permanent loan to the Meise Botanical Garden. See attached. Thanks to the library (heritage collection) for this contribution. https://www.plantentuinmeise.be/en/home/