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A small evergreen tree 5–8 m high, or a bushy shrub 0.25–1.5 m high; young shoots purple-brown, clothed at first with loose tomentum, glabrescent. Leaves leathery, oval, or slightly obovate, rounded or slightly heart-shaped at the base, apex rounded, margins stiffly toothed on young plants, becoming largely entire on adult ones, subsessile, persistent for two years, 3–5 cm long × 2–3.5 cm wide, dark glossy green, sprinkled beneath when young with starry down; stalk 1–3 mm or less long, glabrescent; stipules persistent, 4–5 mm long. Fruits ripen the first year, borne two to four together on a short, stiff stalk, acorn-cup hemispherical, 5–6 mm long × 9–10 mm wide, enclosing about half the acorn, interior downy, scales appressed, triangular, clothed with yellowish-grey down. Acorns ovoid, c. 1.2 cm long × 1 cm wide, glabrous. (E.H. Wilson in Sargent 1916; Bean 1976).
Distribution China Sichuan, Yunnan, Gansu, Xizang (Tibet)
Habitat Dry river valleys, 1300–1600 m asl.
USDA Hardiness Zone 7
Conservation status Least concern (LC)
Taxonomic note Not recognised in the Flora of China, where it is listed as a synonym of Q. spinosa subsp. spinosa, but maintained by Menitsky (2005), Govaerts et al. (2020), and The Oak Name Checklist (2020).
Native to western Sichuan and Yunnan, China, this species was introduced by Wilson in 1910. According to Bean (1976) ‘this oak requires rather warmer conditions than exist in places like Kew,’ which suggests a high mortality rate among early introductions, yet a tree by this name growing at White House Farm in Kent, England, has reached 5 m × 13 cm dbh (Tree Register 2020).
Described by Rehder and E.H. Wilson in 1916 and named after Captain W.J. Gill, a British army officer who made an extended tour through western China in 1877. He was one of the first travellers to visit Tschien-lu and referred frequently to the ‘Holly-leaved Oak’ in his book The River of Golden Sand. (E.H. Wilson in Sargent 1916).