Elemental holmium is a relatively soft and malleable silvery-white metal. It is too reactive to be found uncombined in nature, but when isolated, is relatively stable in dry air at room temperature. However, it reacts with water and corrodes readily and also burns in air when heated.
Holmium is found in the minerals monazite and gadolinite and is usually commercially extracted from monazite using ion-exchange techniques. Its compounds in nature and in nearly all of its laboratory chemistry are trivalently oxidized, containing Ho(III) ions. Trivalent holmium ions have fluorescent properties similar to many other rare-earth ions (while yielding their own set of unique emission light lines), and thus are used in the same way as some other rare earths in certain laser and glass-colorant applications.
Holmium has the highest magnetic permeability of any element and therefore is used for the polepieces of the strongest static magnets. Because holmium strongly absorbs neutrons, it is also used as a burnable poison in nuclear reactors.