Holm Oak tree in grounds at Charlton Down in Dorset

The Holm Oak

Permanently overshadowing the path that leads from Herrison Hall to the cricket ground is a massive tree that goes mostly unnoticed. It is not glamourous when compared with the showier specimen trees nearby. No brightly coloured leaves or flowers. It is a Holm Oak or Holly Oak (Quercus ilex) with dark green, leathery-textured leaves more like holly than the normal appearance of other species of oak; and these leaves are not shed en masse in autumn but each one lasts about four years before falling at any time throughout the year.

This evergreen species is a native to the Mediterranean region and has become naturalised in Britain. Thought to have been introduced in the 16th century as an ornamental tree, it is well adapted to hot dry summers because its thick waxy foliage cuts down on water loss. At this time of year it produces male and female catkins which often go unseen until strong winds bring them down to litter the ground. This year flowers are still in bud compared with last year. Strangely, I have never seen any acorns in autumn on this particular tree. In the south of England Holm Oaks are amongst the largest and can reach a height of 80 feet with a broad spreading crown, and may live to be 250 years old.

These pictures were taken of the same tree at various times, at different angles, over the last 18 months.