The oak is a tree that can reach heights of 25 to 30 m and easily adapts to continental conditions, withstanding cold and snow in winter. Considered a medium-light to light species with a robust temperament, it thrives in various soil types and can tolerate temporary waterlogging. In Portugal, this type of wood is commonly used in wood splint basketry.
Photo by Pedro Arsénio
A similar species is the Portuguese oak, Cerquinho Oak or Cerquinho (Quercus faginea) is a common tree in Portugal. Like other oaks, it produces acorns as fruit, which is used as food by various animals such as wild boar and squirrels, who often bury and forget about them, ending up being natural planters of the species and largely responsible for its spread, in which the jay also stands out.
Humans used it in their food and it is still made into bread, liqueurs and other recipes. There are three subspecies of Quercus faginea: The Cerquinho or Portuguese Oak (Quercus faginea subsp.broteroi), are trees that currently predominate in the center west of Portugal, although in the past their existence was wider, reaching as far as the Serra de Odemira. The subsp. alpestris occurs only in the Barrocal Algarve. The subsp. faginea occurs in the cork oak forests of Trás-os-Montes and Altibeirenses or, much more rarely, in the same region as dominant in secondary forests on rocks. It is not certain that it forms isolated forests, as it is normally associated with cork oaks and extends to Spain. The Portuguese Oak is practically unknown to many Portuguese, although it once dominated extensive and dense oak forests, which provided food and shelter for a myriad of living beings. Today, reduced to small shelters making its territorial extension limited, it is found between the deciduous oaks of the north and interior of the country, such as the Black Oak and the Roble, and the Cork Oak and the Holm Oak of the south, when once the majority of indigenous forests on the mainland of Portugal were oak forests.
An oak can live hundreds of years and, thus, the oak forests were the support of a complex and extensive ecosystem that no longer exists or is reduced to small relic forests. In the living hedges that divide agricultural land and on the edges of paths and roads in the center of the country, one can find one or another Cerquinho Oak, and some abandoned lands that still preserve the genetic source of the Cerquinho tend to evolve and recover naturally, however these shelters are progressively destroyed by human occupation and more recently by eucalyptus monoculture.
Mostly crafted in the central and northern coastal regions of Portugal, wood splint baskets are considered rugged baskets traditionally used for harvesting, farming, and fishing, and more commonly crafted by men.
Photo by Pedro Arsénio
While numerous wood producers and suppliers operate in Portugal, basket weavers commonly opt to personally harvest the wood during winter using a saw machine. After cutting the wood, it has to be heated, and the bark removed. Then, it is split, soaked, and planed before starting to work with it, requiring the largest number of tools, typically consisting of rudimentary and old equipment. When done in the traditional manner, using a basket-weaving bench, it involves a long preparation period.
As aforementioned, oak varieties play a crucial ecological role by fostering insects, and their acorns serve as a vital food resource for numerous birds and mammals. The oak canopy permits a generous amount of light to filter through, creating a diverse and enriched understory.