During Frodo's travels through Ithilien, he encountered ilexes on at least two occasions. The name seems to refer to the tree otherwise known as the 'holm-oak',1 a type of evergreen oak tree that favours warm climates like that of Ithilien. In spring, the branches of the ilex are hung with strings of catkins, and the trees grow to considerable size. At one stage in their journey, Frodo and Sam rested for a time among the branches of an ilex or holm-oak tree.
It should be said that the name 'ilex' can apply to various types of plant besides the holm-oak, including common holly. However, the references in The Lord of the Rings are to a tree large enough to climb, which seems to point to the holm-oak rather than the slender holly. What's more, at one point Frodo and Sam find a stream that's overhung with ilex: this makes rather more sense for holm-oaks (which would be covered in trailing catkins at that time of year) than for a holly bush.
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