Quercus ithaburensis subsp. macrolepis, Mount Tabor oak/Valonia oak, chêne du mont Thabor/chêne velani/ chêne de Grèce, Walloneneiche, roble Valonia
Not suprisingly – considering its distribution and no doubt history – there is no evident Gaelic name for this species, although the kid in me wants to name it dair ghráinneog – Hedgehog oak.
I first came across the Valonia oak, or rather its cups, in the Museum of Ethnobotany in Adelaide’s Botanic Gardens. The samples stated that they were used for making ink… you can imagine the rest.
It seems that this species (with a host of botanical names) was once a valuable commodity for tanning, ink production, and also as a foodstuff, but is now threatened despite it’s wide geographical distribution. So how did it get down here? With the tanners stripping wattles/acacias bare in Australia in the 19th century, British firms started importing Valonia cups from Turkey, and there are efforts to save some of the original plantations. See this interesting article by Catherine Yiğit on the species, its use and history in its homeland. I managed to locate a few live trees locally and permission was kindly granted to collect any cups and acorns that had fallen from the tree. There were plenty to collect this year, in contrast to the local English oaks. The latter seem to have been in low production and to have disappeared from the streets and reserves as if by magic. This was probably due to a very hot and dry summer; the Valonia oaks are drought tolerant.
Back to the dyestuff… Apparently the unripe acorns are also used for tanning and ink, but the fresh material was being gathered by someone else for propagation, and I was going to respect the conditions of collection. There were enough fallen caps to keep me going for a while anyway. One experiment involved soaking the cups in cold water, adding bicarb and then heating a few days later before dyeing the yarn; the second experiment was more accidental. Some caps were left soaking, then forgotten for a few weeks. You can imagine there was a nice layer of mould on top. I didn’t bother heating this “mixture”, as I felt the natural decomposition would have released anything worthwhile. Both experiments produced a liquor that was, well, very dark. Ink. For the first I added yarn both mordanted and un-mordanted, and then followed with the usual range of modifiers. There wasn’t much of a difference in the results, so for the second I stuck to mordanted, non-mordanted, no modifier and iron.
The mordant (right) has brought out a slightly richer tone on the non-modified samples, but on the others there is barely a difference- if any (the sample at the back, right was in full sun, but otherwise looks the same as the sample on its left). I was expecting a much deeper colour from the modified samples considering the darkness of the liquor, but the shade is interesting nonetheless and all results comparable to earlier experiments with walnut leaves.