Quercus ilex, holly oak

An oak from the western Mediterranean basin, this evergreen tree offers dense shade and the dark, shiny green foliage forms rounded canopies.

Tolerant of a dry, frosty climate, and a wide range of soils, especially clays and gravels, it possesses small, leathery leaves, a short, brittle trunk to 1-2m diameter and charcoal grey bark patterned into square platelets.

This tree also is good for-

  • all soils, including calcareous and dry
  • good for coastal shelter, is salt resistant
  • makes a great, tough hedge; trim as for holly or luma
  • drought hardy, grow well to around 400mm p.a. rainfall
  • can lay down more than one wood ring a year, for it is able to opportunistically modulate growth within a season
  • all-year shade, this tree is evergreen, and makes a great wind break, hedges well.
  • frost hardy and grows up to 1400m in its native range (-14C) (even 2500m in the Atlas mountains of Africa)
  • leaves persist for two years before falling, oval and entire 2-7cm
  • offers all year, wind breaking to 15m (may achieve 25m in good sites)
  • wood, is tough and hard, and was used for general construction, hand tools since classical times and charcoal
  • coppices well and can re-sprout from roots like snow gum
  • has a dense crown, at first columnar, and later domed, with many branches arising from the base.

Holly oak is one of the best all-purpose screen trees to around 15m for Southern Australia given its wide tolerance soil type, temperature and moisture levels. So too, the leaf fall forms a pleasant smooth duff of litter, great for stock camps and humus production. Holm or holly oak is wind firm and doesn’t drop hard fines and will tolerate fire but not spread it.

This species is the primary host for truffles. Also, used in the dehesa farming system of the Iberian Peninsula.

Further, this tenacious oak can live up to 1000 years, so acts as a very long carbon store, harbouring around 2 tonnes of C02 in an average specimen.


Tree shape


Mature size

Medium 8-12m

Growth rate



Shade, carbon store, firewood, ornamental, windbeak

Soil type

All soils, good in loamy clays


Drought hardy


oval-lanceolate 2-7cm


Southern Europe