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Tree 20: Holm Oak

Latin name: Quercus ilex
Family: Fagaceae
Other names: Holly Oak
Origin: Eastern Mediterranean
Height: up to 25 metres
Lifespan: up to 400 years
Autumn leaf loss: Evergreen
Gender Type: Monoecious (Male and female flowers on same tree)

The Holm Oak is an evergreen, broadleaf tree, with a rounded crown that can grow to 25m.tall. It is native to the Eastern Mediterranean, introduced to Britain in the late 1500s and now naturalized here. It grows best in coastal regions with mild winters and can withstand salt laden winds.

The leathery, evergreen leaves of the Holm oak are very variable, spiny like holly when young, then smooth and oval shaped when older. They are dark green to black in colour and glossy above with a coating of fair hairs on the underside. The catkins are similar in appearance to those of our native English and Sessile oaks though the acorns are smaller and have a more pointed tip.

The Holm oak is not as valuable to wildlife as the two native oaks, but its catkins provide nectar for bees and other insects. Its acorns are a valuable food source for a wide range of creatures and its dense, evergreen canopy provides good shelter for birds.

Holm oak timber is extremely hard & strong. The Romans used it for making the wheels of carts and carriages as well as the handles of agricultural tools. Its hardness also makes it favoured as a firewood as it burns slowly and for a long time.

In the Holkham Estate on the coast of North Norfolk, Holm oaks abound. It is believed that these trees found their way here through their acorns, which were used to pack the cases containing the First Earl’s Greek and Roman statuary on their journey home from “The Grand Tour”. Each year Holkham supplies young Holm Oak branches to London Zoo for their giraffe to graze on!