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Zones 4-24, 32
Full Sun
Minimal Water

Quercus ilex

Holly Oak, Holm Oak
Evergreen, Trees


The archetypal oak grows large and spreads wide, with muscular, near-horizontal lower branches that seem to defy gravity. But the group’s 500 species, all native to the Northern Hemisphere, also include upright, pyramidal, and shrubby oaks; in fact, “chaparral” comes from chaparra—Spanish for a dwarf evergreen shrub oak. Oak leaves can be deciduous or evergreen (the latter are called live oaks); lobed, toothed, or smooth edged; but they’re always arranged in an alternate pattern along stems. Some have terrific fall color. All oaks produce inconspicuous flowers followed by acorns, whose single nuts have cuplike caps covered with closely set scales. Some kinds of acorns are edible and sweet, while others are bitter and unpalatable.

Oaks come in two broad categories: white oaks have acorns that mature during the season in which they are produced, and often have leaves with rounded lobes; red and black oaks have acorns that take two seasons to mature, and often have leaves with pointed lobes. Each group can hybridize only within itself. 

Quercus ilex

This evergreen tree is a Mediterranean native. It grows to 30–60 ft. tall and wide, with a dense, rounded head and smooth dark gray bark. Leaves vary in shape and size but are usually oval to lance shaped, 1–3 in. long, with smooth or prickly edges; rich dark green on top, covered with gray or yellow hairs beneath. Egg-shaped to nearly round, 1–1 1/2 -in. acorns are gray brown with darker lines, half-enclosed with a deep cap that tapers to the stem. Tolerates salt air; will grow in constant sea wind but tends to be shrubby there. Inland, growth rate can be fairly fast but varies with soil and water conditions. Good evergreen street or lawn tree where coast live oak (Q. agrifolia) is difficult to maintain, though it lacks that tree’s open grace.

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