Family Profile: The Fagaceae

By Romina Delfino and Ann-Marie Connolly

Figure 1. Q. virginiana (live oak) can be found in
maritime hammock habitats and can withstand
hurricane force winds, high soil salinity,
and flooding! Photo credit: Walter K. Taylor.
This post is one of a series from professor Nisse Goldberg's Plant Taxonomy students at Jacksonville University. FNPS blogger Laurie Sheldon assisted the students with their initial drafts, providing suggestions for editing and content development.

Leaves: Alternate and can be lobed, serrate to entire
Flowers: Unisexual or monoecious with male or staminate flowers and female or carpellate flowers associated with a cupule
Fruit: Nut associated with cupule (e.g. acorns and chestnuts)

Figure 2. Q. nigra, water oak. Photo credit: USDA
The family Fagaceae is also referred to as the Beech family, and includes beeches (Fagus), oaks (Quercus), and chestnuts (Castanea). Pollination occurs primarily by wind, but insects such as beetles and bees pollinate Castanea spp. Birds and mammals eat the nuts, as well as humans! For example, roasted chestnuts (yes, like the Christmas song) are delicious. Sadly, an actinomycete fungus commonly known as “chestnut blight” decimated many populations of the American chestnut (Castanea dentata).

Figure 3. Q. michauxii, swamp chestnut oak.
Photo credit: Shirley Denton.
Members of this family are particularly important for the lumber industry. Chestnuts, beeches, and oaks are commonly used to make furniture and flooring. Wood chips from the genus Fagus are even used to flavor birch beer!

In Florida, forty-two native species and hybrids occur. For example, Quercus x Comptoniae is a hybrid of Q. lyrata x Q. virginiana. Fagus grandiflora, American beech, is the only native beech in the state. Florida is home to the native Castanea dentata and C. pumila, chinquapin, as well as two non-native chestnut species. Common oak species found in Florida include Quercus virginana (live oak), Quercus nigra (water oak), and Quercus michauxii (swamp chestnut oak, Figs. 1-3).

Judd, WS, Campbell, SC, Kellogg, EA, Stevens, PF, and Donoghue, ML. 2008. Plant systematics: A phylogenetic approach. Sinauer Associates, Inc. Massachusetts, USA.

Image Sources
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