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Carlos collecting Quercus ×alentejana (Q. faginea × Q. pyrenaica) in northeastern Portugal for his PhD thesis © Carlos Vila-Viçosa
An interview with Portuguese oak conservationist Dr. Carlos...
Amy Byrne | Apr 19, 2024
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It was a great pleasure for me to be able to write about my...
Gert Fortgens | Feb 15, 2024

Plant Focus

Quercus crassipes acorns with inrolled cupule margin
One of the more well-known Mexican oaks in cultivation.

The Origins of the International Oak Society

If the International Oak Society were an oak tree, we could say that the acorn it grew from was a small group of people who in the 1980s began exchanging seed via mail. The group was initiated by Steve Roesch in the U.S., who later told the story of how it happened:

I had no initial plan to develop any sort of plant society. In the late 1970s and early 1980s I was very enthusiastic, and frustrated not to find various rare plant species (in particular oaks, but they were not then a priority for me). I was volunteerng in the greenhouse at the Milwaukee (Wisconsin) Public Museum. At that time the Museum had a list of plant societies, which proved useful in finding a few items. Most notable was the American Fern Society, with its excellent spore exchange. This spore exchange prompted my first serious international correspondence. I continued to search for rare species, but most (especially Quercus) could not be obtained from commercial sources, even as seeds. I contacted many arboreta, but they were not very helpful. I had read about the successful work done by John Bartram with his English correspondent Peter Collinson, and wanted to work in a similar manner. I just needed to find a "Peter Collinson" of my own. Eventually, I had my name and address listed in an arboricultural journal in England, seeking correspondence and seed exchange. A few replies were received, most promisingly from Susan Cooper and Michael Frankis. Soon there began a very productive exchange of many seeds. Mostly, they asked for Quercus—and so did I. A few months later, I asked Ms. Cooper if we might find more species of oak if we announced the introduction of an "International Oak Society" which really did not exist at that time. She agreed, and several publications included the announcement. Soon we had a small but serious group of exchangers, with participants from several other countries.

Some of those that took part in this group were:

Stéphane Brame (France)
Daniel Dumont (Belgium)
Susan Cooper (UK)
Michael Frankis (UK)
Michael Meléndrez (USA)
Michel Decalut (Belgium)
Stelian Radu (Romania)
Steve Roesch (USA)
Guy Sternberg (USA)
J.R.P. van Hoey Smith (Netherlands)
Nigel Wright (USA)

In March 1992, the Society published its first Journal, edited by Nigel Wright. That year was also the first time that the Society collected member dues. We have records of a list of members from that year, which included 33 individuals from 10 countries and 6 institutions in the U.S.

At the time, the Directors of the Society were listed in the Journal as follows:

Steven Roesch (Founder & Seed Distributor)
Susan Cooper (Co-Founder)
Guy Sternberg (Co-Organizer)
Lisa & M. Nigel Wright (Journal Editors & Coordinators)

In 1994 the Society organized its First Conference at The Morton Arboretum with 174 registered attendees, of which 45 were marked as "Member of IOS" in the list of registrants.

Immediately following the Conference, the Society held its Inaugural Meeting, where 35 individuals signed the attendance roster.

At the meeting, it was decided that members would meet formally every three years, and a planning committee consisting of Michael Meléndrez, Amy Larson and Bill Hess was formed to organize these meetings. You can read here the minutes of the meeting and the letter sent to members sharing the resolutions taken and discussed. Following the inaugural meeting, the Society was incorporated as an Illinois not-for-profit corporation. The incorporating officers who signed the articles of incorporation on March 25, 1996, were Nigel Wright, Peter van der Linden, and Guy Sternberg. The articles include the Society's mission statement:

To promote the study, sustainable management, preservation, appreciation, and dissemination of knowledge to the public about oaks (genus Quercus) and their ecosystems.

The Interim Board of Directors was constituted as follows:

Guy Sternberg (President)
Allen Coombes (Vice-President)
M. Nigel Wright (Journal Editor)
Peter van der Linden (Treasurer)
Amy Larson (Secretary

Since that first meeting, the IOS has held Conferences every three years. The Conferences have traditionally culminated with a massive seed exchange, honoring our origins as a small band of correspondents led by Steve Roesch. 

Further reading:

Steven Roesch’s account of the founding of the IOS, published in the Special Commemorative Republication of the first issue of the Journal:
In the Beginning

Nigel Wright’s introduction to the first issue of the Journal of the International Oak Society:
An Introduction from the Editor

Charles Snyers’ note on determining the year the IOS was founded:
What is the Society's Actual Inception Year?

An Account of the 21st Anniversary of the First Conference:
Blackjack at The Morton Arboretum

Past Boards of Directors