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An evergreen tree of large size, attaining in favourable places a height of 70 to 90 ft, and developing in open situations a huge head of densely leafy branches as much across, the terminal portions of the branches, usually pendulous in old trees; trunk sometimes over 20 ft in girth; young shoots clothed with a close grey felt. Leaves very variable in shape, most frequently narrowly oval or ovate-lanceolate, 11⁄2 to 3 in. long, 1⁄2 to 1 in. broad, rounded or broadly tapered at the base, pointed, sometimes entire, sometimes (especially on young trees) more or less remotely toothed. When quite young both surfaces are clothed with whitish down, which soon falls away entirely from the upper surface leaving it a dark glossy green; on the lower surface it turns grey or tawny, and persists until the fall of the leaf; stalk 1⁄8 to 5⁄8 in. long. Fruits produced one to three together on a short downy stalk, ripening the first season; acorns usually 1⁄2 to 3⁄4 in. long in this country; cups with appressed, downy scales.
Native of the Mediterranean region; cultivated in England since the 16th century. The holm oak is in many respects the finest of all evergreen trees, apart from conifers, cultivated in the British Isles. Its foliage is most abundant, and the branches form heavy dark masses on the tree. The habit of young trees is curiously diverse, some being of distinctly pendulous habit, others rigidly pyramidal. The leaves, too, vary very much in size, shape, and toothing. On strong sucker shoots I have gathered them 5 in. long and 21⁄4 in. wide, but that is very unusual. This oak likes a warm, rather light soil, and is perfectly hardy in the south and west of England, and near the coast. In very severe winters it is occasionally denuded of foliage. It thrives well near the sea, and is much planted on the sea-front of some of the southern watering-places, where it is seen as a dense, flat-headed bush, stunted, but otherwise quite healthy. It has one defect as a tree in trim gardens, due to shedding the leaves of the previous year during May and June, and making an unsightly litter day after day. One way of avoiding this nuisance is to plant the ground underneath the branches with ivy, amongst which the leaves fall and automatically disappear. Grown in wood under semi-forest conditions, the holm oak makes a tall slender trunk of rather picturesque appearance, due to the corrugation of the bark. It may also, if so desired, be clipped into rounded or pyramidal shapes and kept permanently dwarf. It should only be propagated by acorns, which it produces in quantity in dry hot seasons. The seedlings should be grown on in pots and planted out when small in spring or summer, after the first or second flush of growth is completed.
Although there are no notable specimens of Q. ilex at Kew, the species thrives well there. The plantings on either side of the Syon Vista are largely composed of this species, intermixed with forms of Q. × hispanica and Q. × turneri. The largest in the collection, by the North Gallery, measures 70 × 13 ft (1952). Other old specimens in or near London are: Chiswick House, London, 70 × 21 ft (1952); Frogmore, Berks, 55 × 191⁄4 ft (1967). Farther to the south-west the following have been recorded: Melbury, Dorset, 70 × 131⁄4 ft (1971); Knights-hayes, Devon, 82 × 203⁄4 ft at 3 ft (1959); Dartington Hall, Devon, 75 × 131⁄4 ft, with a 15-ft bole (1968); Killerton, Devon, 79 × 171⁄4 ft at 4 ft, and 92 × 14 ft, with a 10-ft bole (1970). But the most remarkable specimen in the British Isles grows at Westbury Court, Glos.; although only 45 ft high it is 241⁄2 ft in girth at 31⁄2 ft and has a spread of 96 ft from west to east and 77 ft from north to south (1973).
specimens: Frogmore, Berks., 52 × 18 ft (1982); Chilham Castle, Kent, 80 × 24 ft at 1 ft (1983); Mote Park, Kent, 88 × 8 ft (1984); Ashburnham Park, Sussex, 102 × 6 ft (1983); Melbury, Dorset, 75 × 133⁄4 ft (1980); Glastonbury Abbey, Som., 71 × 173⁄4 ft (1984); Dartington Hall, Devon, 65 × 14 ft (1984); Killerton, Devon, 70 × 171⁄4 ft and, with 10 ft bole, 82 × 141⁄4 ft (1977); Tregothnan, Cornwall, 80 × 17 ft (1985); Biel, E. Lothian, 85 × 123⁄4 ft (1985).
emend. Sm. Q. ilex var. gramuntia (L.) Loud
Q. ballota Desf.
Q. rotundifolia Lam