Holm Oak - Quercus ilex

The Holm Oak is native to Spain where it is called the "Encina". Another name for this tree in English is "Holly Oak" in reference to the fact that its leaves resemble those of the Holly. Another name that I have seen used is "Evergreen Oak" which I suppose is used because this tree does not drop its leaves like most other oaks. It is always green with the old leaves falling off shortly after the new ones emerge.
In Spain the "Encina" has several important uses. One of these is the value of its acorns as a source of food for the "Iberian" pigs that are used to make the famed "Jamon Serrano" (cured ham). The cured ham from an Iberian pig that has been allowed to graze in the open fields and that has eaten mostly acorns from the Encina has a special flavour that is highly prized in Spain. Sometimes this ham is referred to as "jamon de bellota" which means "acorn ham".
Another use for the Encina is as firewood. The Holm Oak has very hard and heavy wood that makes it ideal as firewood as it is a slow and long lasting wood. Unlike how firewood is usually cut in the USA in Spain it is not normal to cut the tree down in order to harvest the firewood. Rather every few years the tree is "pruned" back and the branches that are cut off are used as firewood and to make charcoal. In this way one tree can supply burning wood to its owner for hundreds of years. The average lifespan of this tree is about 400 years.
When the Holm Oak is an young sapling its leaves are usually very prickly (like the Holly). This makes it less attractive to livestock as a source of food. When the tree matures however the leaves loose this particular trait.
The image above is of the "Catkins" as the blossoms or flowers of oaks are called. The image below is of the new leaves that emerge after the catkins dry and fall off.


  1. Holm Oak fascinating. Thank you for this Bloglog which I have found in my search for the possible relationship to the Burning Bush of Moses.
    How about it? Evergreen, enduring for centuries,hardy conditions.
    Do you have any knowledge of the exact species of the Bush at St. Catherine's Monastery on Mt. Sinai?

  2. I believe the bush you are referring to is a bramble and its species is Rubus sanctus. No relation to the Holm Oak.

  3. I like these pictures and descriptions of Holm Oak.

  4. Very interesting thanks. I live on a road called Dropping Holmes which is said locally to mean "dripping holly". We regularly get saplings appearing in our garden as if by magic.. . I thought they were holly, because of the leaf and prickly stem.

  5. Thanks for the info on Holm oaks. I was looking for a visual image and some details in my study of the apparitions of the Virgin Mary at Fatima. This was very useful.

  6. Yes the Evergreen oak is called in Catalan "Alzina", which is simialr to Encina in spanish. The Catalan name sounds arab, because this tree also grows naturally in north Africa, Portugal, south France, and maybe other Mediterranean areas.
    It now grows in the south of UK, and many big trees can be found in parks and big gardens, and they seem to grow bigger in UK, due to mild and rainy weather, I supose.
    I´m from near Barcelona.

  7. I love this tree, my husband works in a cemetery and there are many of these trees there. When they are pruned we get to take the wood home to burn in our wood burner, such heat and longevity even when the air is almost cut off. I love the idea that managed properly one tree can give a lifetime of heat whilst still maintaining its' own. Surely there must be something in this!!?

  8. My last name is Belote and I recently came across some family information that suggested our last name was derived from this species because our 'clan' origniated from southern France where this species occures and the acorns were eaten? Do you have any information as to whether the acorns from this species are/were called 'belote'? Thank you for any leads. Please feel free to email me at rtbelote@vt.edu. Sincerely, Travis Belote

  9. Travis,

    The Spanish term for acorn is "Bellota" which I believe comes from the Arabic name "Balluta".
    In Algeria they use the name "baloute"
    In Catalan the term is "Gla" but I have seem them spell the Spanish word "Bellota" as "Bellote"
    I´ve seen Basques spell the name "Ballota".

  10. I identified my first scrub oak the other day, atop a rocky ridge in Connecticut. Its scientific name is Quercus ilicifolia. I looked up ilici in my Latin dictionary and found ilex (ilicis). Although Ilex is now the genus name of holly, the Latin dictionary defines ilex as "holm-oak" so I googled that and discovered this wonderful web site which clarifies the holly connection. The smaller leaves of the scrub oak are vaguely American holly-like, though I suppose the point is that they must resemble the young leaves of holm oak.

  11. hi there, i´m from portugal ! here in portugal we have also these trees! they grow mainly in the center and south of the country!in portuguese we don´t say bellota but bolota , just for curiosity!i´ve heard that in some areas of hungary we can find holm oaks also , but in this case they were planted !congratulations for the site !

  12. Hi Anonymous,several specimens of Q. ilex are growing in Arboretum Mlynany, Slovakia. I met it especially on the Croatian coast.
    Regards from Slovakia!

  13. Hi, I found this blog through a google search. I am living in Spain, Mallorca exactly and the house I work in has these trees however some appear to be dying, does anyone know if these trees can survive in coastal areas ? The house is very close to the sea and could explain them dying however I'm perplexed as to why a gardener would choose to plant them here when the house was bulit if they are not able to survive the salty environment. Your help is much appreciated, Regards Carla