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The National Centre for Forest Genetic Resources “El Serranillo” (Ministry for Ecological Transition and the Demographic Challenge) has been working for more than 10 years on research into the quercus, as the most representative species of the dehesa, with the aim of developing solutions to the enormous challenges this ecosystem is currently facing.

One of its main lines of research is focused on the grafting of different species (quecus ilex, quercus suber, quercus faginea, mestos,…) on selected rootstocks. Both the origin of the grafts and the rootstocks are the result of field selection of specimens characterised by their vigour, production and tolerance to pathogens such as phytophthora. The current results show that the domestication of quercus is possible, with two-year-old specimens that produce high quality holm oak acorns, with cork oak trunks that will produce cork and mycorrhizal roots that, in addition to favouring plant growth, offer mushrooms as an interesting economic alternative.

Last 11th of November, Innogestiona Ambiental attended the presentation of this project in the town of Saucedilla (Cáceres), where Juan Luis Peñuelas, researcher at “El Serranillo”, presented his work on the domestication of quercus from its origins to the current results. In his presentation, Peñuelas highlighted the characteristics of acorns as food for humans, with antioxidant and anti-carcinogenic properties, as well as the potential of acorn flour, which is gluten-free and of great nutritional value.

Field visit

In order to verify the results of their research, those attending the event visited the experimental plot that the National Forest Genetics Centre manages in the town of Saucedilla, thanks to a collaboration agreement with the Town Council. In the plot we observed the different combinations of grafts: holm oak on cork oak, holm oak on Quercus faginea (gall oak), cork oak on mesto,… Although the results are disparate, it seems that the most appropriate combination to improve economic and environmental sustainability in the dehesa could be that of selected holm oak on cork oak rootstock. With plants that are a priori tolerant to pathogens such as phytophthora, with faster and more vigorous growth and a guaranteed production from 2 to 3 years of age, thanks to the fact that the origin of these grafts are selected adult trees.

New business model

Given the potential of these domesticated quercus, interesting business opportunities are opening up, ranging from the densification of dehesas with plants that are more tolerant to current diseases, to the intensive production of quercus in irrigated areas, as an alternative crop, both for human consumption and as a complement to the montaneras. Cork and mushrooms complete this multi-cropping proposal, which could represent an interesting opportunity for rural environments and for the future of the dehesa.

From Innogestiona Ambiental we understand this opportunity as an interesting option for the densification of the dehesas, as well as to guarantee the high added value of products derived from the acorn-fed Iberian pig in the future, likewise, this option can contribute to the adaptation of this ecosystem to climate change, thanks to the more accelerated growth of these plants as well as their capacity to tolerate threats such as “la seca”. In relation to the more intensive production option, it is important to have a proper environmental impact assessmet to ensure adequate water management.

The commercialisation of these plants, as well as the technical consultancy for the implantation of crops is currently being developed by Meristec.


Principal image: Sietemandarinas, wikimedia, Cerdo en montanera de Guillén, Finca el Tagarráis (18 nov. 2014).