American Holly






(Ilex opaca)

Interesting Information About Plant:  

     The plant needs to be in medium-wet, well-drained soil and sunny or partial shade. These trees develop slowly and produce white flowers in late spring and red berries that last through winter. Holly is separated into male and female plants. The berries only grow on female Holly trees and the male trees must be nearby to help pollinate female flowers and ensure fruiting. To keep the berries going the males must pollinate the female. The practical uses are for dye color from the berries and the plants are very popular for landscaping and provides nesting habits for songbirds. Edible use is tea and the leaves are roasted used for tea subsitute but they don't contain caffeine. The medical uses are that the berries can be used for childern's diarrhea. Also tea from the leaves has been used for measles and colds. Leaves help treatment for sore eyes and itchy skin. 

     The only plant truly associated with the Christmas season because when the first settlers of the Americans from across the pond saw it on the shores of what is now Massachusetts it reminded them of English Holly, which was always used to celebrate Christmas in Europe. Since then it has been popular for use in the Eastern United States for its berries and foliage and Christmas decorations and ornamentation. Despite its beauty, one must be careful because the red berry-like fruit that the females produce are toxic and therefore should not be eaten.  Despite being toxic to humans, the berries are considered to be a vital source of food for birds during seasons when other food sources are limited. But even before European settlers came over it was also used by the Native Americans to make a tea for coughing by boiling the leaves, and it was even a plant favorite of George Washington. More recently in the 20th century the plant became so popular it was being stolen from people’s homes and in Delaware and Massachusetts laws were passed to prohibit sale of fresh Holly. The Holly plant does grow pretty slow, but can eventually attain a height of around 30-50 feet in a compact pyramid shape. If planted in the right conditions and decently cared for some hollies can live up to 100 years or longer.

Common Name(s): American Holly Tree

Scientific Name: Ilex opaca

Family Name (Scientific and Common): Aquifoliaceae (The Holly family)

Continent of Origin:  North America                

Plant Growth Habit: Tree

Height at Maturity: More than 10 Feet

Life Span: Perennial

Seasonal Habit: Evergreen Perennial

Growth Habitat: Full Sun / Partial Sun (survive with both)

Manner of Culture: Landscape Shrub-Tree  /  Native Species

Thorns on Younger Stem: No

Cross Section of Younger Stem: Roundish  

Stem (or Trunk) Diameter: More Than The Diameter of a Coffee-Mug 

Produces Brownish Bark: No (Grayish) 

Bark Peeling in Many Areas: No

Characteristics of Mature (Brownish) Bark: Smooth Bark  Type of Leaf: Thick, Fleshy Leaf

Length of Leaf (or Leaflet): Less than Length of a Credit Card 

Leaf Complexity: Simple 

Edge of Leaf: Serrated

Leaf Arrangement:  Alternate 

Leaf has Petiole: Yes 

Patterns of Main-Veins on Leaf (or Leaflet): Pinnate   

Leaf Hairiness: No Hairs

Color of Foliage in Summer: Green   

Change in Color of Foliage in October: No Change

Flowering Season: Spring

Flowers: Tightly Clustered  

Type of Flower: Colorful Flower

Color of Flower: White 

Shape of Individual Flower: Radially Symmetrical

Size of Individual Flower: Smaller than a Quarter  

Sexuality: Male and Female Flowers on Separate Plants

Size of Fruit: Smaller than a Quarter 

Fruit Fleshiness: Fleshy 

Shape of Fruit: Spherical   

Color of Fruit at Maturity: Red

Fruit Desirable to Birds or Squirrels: Yes      

Louisville Plants That Are Most Easily Confused With This One: English Holly Tree

Unique Morphological Features of Plant: Produces spines on the edges of their leaves.

Poisonous: Part of Plant   

Pestiness (weedy, hard to control): No


Page prepared by: 

Gabe Tanner & Ashley Lewallen   

November  2004

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