Common name: Evergreen holly oak, holm oak
Quercus ilex: There is a bench on the shady trail through the Mediterranean Garden. Right behind it is the evergreen holly oak/holm oak. Its branches arch over the path. There is no better place to sit on a hot day or a cold windy one.
Holly oak is a tough tree. Native to the Mediterranean, this medium-sized oak can withstand high winds and salt spray. It is protected by its small, green, leathery leaves that are rolled back at the margins and the dense short hairs on the undersides. The leaves on the lower branches are often larger and spiny. Old leaves fall one to two years after new leaves emerge. And holly oak isn’t fussy. It grows in sun or shade and any kind of soil. A tough-looking oak too. Its bark is black and finely cracked.
But holly oak is more than just a tough tree. Birds use it for shelter and nesting sites, while its acorns provide food for a wide variety of animals. And the famous and very expensive Black Diamond/Perigord Truffle (Tuber melanosporum) grows in mycorrhizal association with the tree’s roots. Holly oak is one of the top trees used in truffle orchards.
The first three pictures are of the holly oak on the shady trail through the Mediterranean Garden. The three that follow are of another holly oak growing in full sun in the oak collection. The pictures were taken in late spring.
Text and photos by Hughie Jones