The holm oak, Quercus ilex, is one of the few evergreen oak trees in the country but it is not a British native. It was introduced from the Mediterranean in the 1600s and brought to Ventnor in the 19th centuary by the Victorians, who returned with many exotic plants from their travels abroad.
The holm oak proved to be invasive. Its spread across Ventnor Downs is thought to have been assisted by jays collecting and burying acorns.
The tree thrives in the unusually mild climate at Ventnor and copes well with the dry chalk soils and its exposed coastal location – its glossy leaves are resistant to salt winds.
The history of the Holm oak
It was known to the Romans, who used its hard wood to make cartwheels and wine casks, and to the Ancient Greeks who honoured people with crowns made from holm oak leaves.
Today, it is one of the top three trees used in truffle orchards. The holm oak gets its name from its spiny, toothed leaves. These resemble holly leaves – 'holm' being an old word for holly.