Holm Oak is one of the densest of all the species of oak, and is a dark and tough-to-saw material, but nevertheless has many applications in woodworking. Its large pores and wide grain are distinctive features of this species, which is used by cabinet-makers, furniture builders, wood-turners and barrel-makers. Some good examples of this tree, which may live between 500 and 900 years, are to be found in Malta, where it is the only indigenous species of oak, and grows only in the four protected forests in the districts of Wardija, Buskett and Dingli. Taking its name from the Holly tree the Holm oak’s etymology comes from its Latin genus Quercus ilex (Literally Holm Oak meaning Hollen or Holly oak)
If you have the chance to visit Malta, you may have to search quite vigorously to find the Holm oak, but if you do, you will be rewarded by seeing a tree which may have been alive when Pope Paschal II gave permission for the Sovereign Military Order of Malta to found the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem. Imagine taking shade where a Knight Templar stood, hand on hilt, nearly 1000 years ago, and you have some idea of the mystique this beautiful tree emanates. At that time, furniture making as we know it was in its infancy, and the wood was more likely to have been used for boat-building or even firewood. It can grow to thirty metres in height, and there are instances of it, in Malta, having a girth of 4.5 metres.
Holm Oak Furniture
Because of its limited geographical distribution, the Maltese Holm Oak does not feature as a furniture material much outside of the Mediterranean Basin where the tree makes its home, but there are some beautiful pieces of this oak living furniture in existence. The tree does grow in less balmy climates than Malta, and has been reported in Wiltshire in England, and has been made into character-filled, aromatic, oak living furniture for both indoor and outdoor use. With so much imported oak from the BRIC countries flooding the developed world with minimum wage constructed oak furniture, anyone who is lucky enough to get some wood from this ancient and rare tree should count themselves lucky. Its hardness makes it perfect for building small furniture items, and the result will be a kind of oak furniture which not many people can access. A material which takes glue and paint finishes very well, the Holm Oak is an intriguing and beautiful, if not typical, wood to work, or to own.