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Plant Focus

Quercus macdougallii
A rare oak endemic to the Sierra Juárez in Oaxaca

The Gallipoli Oaks Project

Centenary celebrations related to the First World War (1914-1918) will be taking place throughout the 2014-2018 period, but 2015 will likely see the most important celebration in Australia and New Zealand: the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli Landings on the Gallipoli Peninsula in present day Turkey (then part of the Ottoman Empire), which marked the baptism of fire for the first contingent of troops from Australia and New Zealand. The Gallipoli Campaign resulted in a major failure for Allied troops, and was a defining moment in Turkish national history, forming the basis for the founding of the Republic of Turkey under Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, who rose to prominence as a commander at Gallipoli. Nevertheless, the Gallipoli Campaign is considered to represent the birth of national consciousness in Australia and New Zealand. The date of the landing, April 25, known as Anzac Day (ANZAC is an acronym standing for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps), is the most significant commemoration of military casualties and veterans in those two countries, surpassing Remembrance Day (the anniversary of Armistice Day, Nov 11, 1918, when the Great War ended).

Q. calliprinos
Catkins and new growth on Q. coccifera subsp. calliprinos. Photo: © Roderick Cameron

On the Gallipoli Peninsula, after landing at a small cove now knows as Anzac Cove, soldiers came across a prickly shrub which at first was only an inconvenience but would turn out to be one of the lasting memorials of the campaign. General (Sir) John Monash wrote home in November 1915:

“I have made the discovery that the prickly scrub, with which these hills are covered, and which has inflicted many an unkind scratch on hands, arms and bare knees, is really a species of holly, and bears an acorn, showing that it belongs to the Oak variety. The bush is quite ornate and grows to a height of about 5 feet, much like the ordinary holly with the red berry.”

The original Gallipoli oak at Murndal, Victoria, Australia. Photo: National Trust of Australia (Victoria)

He also sent some acorns in a separate packet. And he was not the only member of the Anzac forces to do so: Captain William Lempriere Winter-Cooke also collected acorns and they were planted by his family in 1916 at their home at ‘Murndal’ near Hamilton in the state of Victoria.  Acorns were also planted where Captain Winter-Cooke went to school at Geelong Grammar in Melbourne. 

The acorns these soldiers were collecting were from an oak that grows along the ridges and valleys of the Gallipoli Peninsula, a subspecies of Kermes Oak (Quercus coccifera) known as Q. coccifera subsp. calliprinos. There is disagreement amongst taxonomists about whether this form merits a different name: Kew Checklist declares Q. coccifera subsp. calliprinos to be a synonym of Q. coccifera, but oaknames.org still maintains this subspecies, which was originally identified as a species (Q. calliprinos) by British botanist Philip Barker-Webb in 1838. In any case, in Australia this oak is known as Gallipoli oak. If you detect a similarity in the names calliprinos and Gallipoli, it is no coincidence, as they are linguistic cousins: Gallipoli derives from the Greek "Καλλίπολις" (Kallipolis) meaning “beautiful city”: κάλλος (kallos) = beauty, πόλις (polis) = city; calliprinos is also Greek, meaning “beautiful tree” or specifically “beautiful oak”, as πρῖνος (prinos) was the name given to Q. coccifera and Q. ilexKallos turns up in many botanical names, e.g., Callistemon, Calocedrus, and of course, Calla. Perhaps General Monash would have been surprised to learn that the “prickly shrub” that scratched his men’s hands, arms, and bare knees had been dubbed “beautiful,” but on the other hand he did concede that “[t]he bush is quite ornate.”

Quercus coccifera subsp. calliprinos acorn, with the mother tree in background, at Murndal.
Photo: National Trust of Australia (Victoria)


So this oak is a fitting memorial for this campaign. In May 2013, the National Trust of Australia (Victoria) launched the Gallipoli Oaks Project. It aims to propagate up to 2,000 Gallipoli oak seedlings from acorns harvested from the original Q coccifera subsp. calliprinos trees grown from Capt. Winter-Cooke's acorns. The seedlings will be planted in primary schools of the state of Victoria during remembrance ceremonies, in this way bringing to life the “symbolic link between the Centenary of ANZAC, the people of Turkey and the primary school children of Victoria.” You can read more about the project on their website, www.gallipolioaks.org, where information is provided about the history behind the Gallipoli oak, the work that has gone into harvesting acorns and propagating the oaks, and also instructions for the schoolchildren on how to plant and care for their seedlings.

The National Trust of Australia has embarked on a beautiful project that combines horticulture, remembrance and education, setting up a beautiful memento to a momentous historic event by means of a beautiful tree, the Gallipoli oak. Let us hope that oak taxonomists can keep afloat its beautiful name, calliprinos, and not suffer it to sink into synonymy.

Photo: National Trust of Australia (Victoria)
Gallipoli oak acorns harvested at Murndal. Photo: National Trust of Australia (Victoria)
Harvesting acorns for the Gallipoli Oaks Project. Photos: National Trust of Australia (Victoria)

Sources consulted

www.gallipolioaks.org (National Trust of Australia (Vic)- Gallipoli Oaks Project)
www.avenuesofhonour.org  Avenues of Honour 1915-2015
www.nationaltrust.org.au National Trust of Australia
http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/ Henry George Liddell. Robert Scott. A Greek-English Lexicon revised and augmented throughout by Sir Henry Stuart Jones with the assistance of Roderick McKenzie. Oxford. Clarendon Press. 1940.