American holly tree leaf

Ilex opaca

  • Attributes: Genus: Ilex Species: opaca Family: Aquifoliaceae Life Cycle: Woody Country Or Region Of Origin: Central & Eastern U.S.A Distribution: PA and MA south through FL, west to TX up through Midwest states Fire Risk Rating: high flammability Wildlife Value: It is a host plant for the Henry’s Elfin butterfly and provides nectar for adult butterflies and other insects. Its fruits are eaten by songbirds, wild turkeys, quail, white-tailed deer, squirrels and other small mammals. Honeybees are attracted to its tiny white flowers. This tree provides cover during the winter. Play Value: Wildlife Food Source Particularly Resistant To (Insects/Diseases/Other Problems): Moderately salt tolerant, highly deer resistant. Dimensions: Height: 40 ft. 0 in. – 60 ft. 0 in. Width: 10 ft. 0 in. – 20 ft. 0 in.
  • Whole Plant Traits: Plant Type: Native Plant Poisonous Tree Leaf Characteristics: Broadleaf Evergreen Habit/Form: Open Pyramidal Growth Rate: Slow Maintenance: Low Texture: Medium Appendage: Spines
  • Cultural Conditions: Light: Deep shade (Less than 2 hours to no direct sunlight) Full sun (6 or more hours of direct sunlight a day) Partial Shade (Direct sunlight only part of the day, 2-6 hours) Soil Texture: Clay Loam (Silt) Shallow Rocky Soil pH: Acid (<6.0) Soil Drainage: Good Drainage Moist Occasionally Dry Occasionally Wet Available Space To Plant: 3 feet-6 feet NC Region: Coastal Mountains Piedmont Usda Plant Hardiness Zone: 5a, 5b, 6a, 6b, 7a, 7b, 8a, 8b, 9a, 9b
  • Fruit: Fruit Color: Orange Red/Burgundy Fruit Value To Gardener: Fragrant Showy Display/Harvest Time: Fall Winter Fruit Type: Berry Fruit Length: < 1 inch Fruit Width: < 1 inch Fruit Description: Bright red or orange berry-like drupe. Persist on tree from September through February. Both sexes must be present to produce fruit.

  • Flowers: Flower Color: Gold/Yellow Green White Flower Inflorescence: Cyme Insignificant Flower Value To Gardener: Fragrant Showy Flower Bloom Time: Spring Summer Flower Size: 1-3 inches Flower Description: The American Holly is dioecious (male and female flowers are on separate trees). It has greenish-white flowers bloom April-June (male flowers in 3-12 flowered clusters and female flowers solitary or in 2’s or 3’s). Infloreescence is staminate a cyme, and pistillate single.
  • Leaves: Leaf Characteristics: Broadleaf Evergreen Leaf Color: Green Leaf Feel: Prickly Leaf Value To Gardener: Showy Deciduous Leaf Fall Color: Brown/Copper Gold/Yellow Leaf Type: Simple Leaf Arrangement: Alternate Leaf Shape: Elliptical Oblong Leaf Margin: Entire Hairs Present: No Leaf Length: 1-3 inches Leaf Width: 1-3 inches Leaf Description: Its thick, leathery, alternate, simple, deep green leaves (2-4″ long) have spiny marginal teeth. Leaves are alternate, simple, oblong to elliptic, coriaceous, and have an apical spine.
  • Bark: Bark Color: Light Gray White Bark Description: Light gray-white and smooth bark, may be splotched or warty.
  • Stem: Stem Color: Gray/Silver Stem Is Aromatic: No Stem Description: Stems are a greenish-gray color.
  • Landscape: Landscape Theme: Butterfly Garden Children’s Garden Pollinator Garden Design Feature: Barrier Hedge Screen/Privacy Specimen Attracts: Bees Butterflies Pollinators Small Mammals Songbirds Specialized Bees Resistance To Challenges: Deer Salt Wind Problems: Frequent Disease Problems Poisonous to Humans
  • Poisonous to Humans: Poison Severity: Low Poison Symptoms: Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea. Poison Toxic Principle: Illicin, possibly saponic glycosides, and triterpenoids. Causes Contact Dermatitis: No Poison Part: Fruits

American Holly (Ilex opaca)

American Holly (Ilex opaca) grows best in sun but can withstand partial shade with moist, well-drained, acid soil; should be planted in an area protected from high wind; pruning should be done in winter, and it can withstand heavy pruning if branches are removed at their point of origin; susceptible to iron chlorosis in high pH soils.

Nice pyramidal shape, with limbs all the way to the ground; will get more open as it matures; only the female plants have red berries, and only if a male is close enough for pollination; the berries hang on the tree into winter, providing interest and food for birds; prunings can be used for holiday decorations; many named varieties provide various sizes and fruit colors.

There are cultivars with yellow berries, and there are many hybrids with Ilex cassine that go by the name Ilex x attenuata. Cultivars from those hybrids are known by names such as ‘Savannah,’ ‘Foster,’ and ‘East Palatka’ to name a few. Those hybrids have fewer spines on the leaves and generally a heavier fruit set.

This plant is difficult to transplant except as a very young plant.

Other Common Names: White Holly, Christmas Holly.

Holly Tree Stock Photos and Images

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  • Ireland; Holly Tree
  • Holly tree
  • Hoar frost on a holly tree during winter in the New Forest National Park
  • Small Common Holly tree (Ilex aquifolium, European Holly) in Winter in a park in the UK.
  • An ancient gnarled holly tree and a misty sunrise at Bratley View in the New Forest
  • Holly tree in churchyard with gravestone
  • A sprig of American holly tree berries and blossoms.
  • holly tree bush bushes berry berries english wood woods forest forests trees hollybush hollybushes red
  • A HOLLY TREE AND ITS BERRIES ON THE SHORE OF LOCH HOPE SUTHERLAND SCOTLAND
  • Holly tree covered in berries in a church yard near Gillingham Dorset
  • Shaped holly tree in private garden, Northamptonshire
  • Red berries on a Holly Tree, Lake District, UK.
  • Holly tree Ilex aquifolium laden with bright red berries September 2017 Cotswolds UK
  • Holly tree with holly berries in Ross Bay cemetery
  • Holly tree in Buttermere Valley with Crummock Water and Lake Buttermere ,the English Lake District,Cumbria,UK
  • Holly tree with red berries, UK
  • Berries on a holly tree, Cornwall, UK
  • red berries growing on holly tree Holly (Ilex aquifolium) Sussex. UK October
  • frutos frutos acebo fruits holly arbol natural naturaleza Tree natural nature
  • Ancient Holly Trees over 200 years old on The Hollies on the Stiperstones hills Shropshire
  • Holly tree in the New Forest near the Bolderwood Ornamental Drive. Hampshire, England, UK
  • Leaves and fruit of the American holly, Ilex opaca.
  • Holly Tree, Glen Etive, Scotland
  • Holly berries on a holly tree against a blue sky
  • Close up of female flowers of the holly tree
  • Holly bush Ilex aquifolium with masses of red berries near Christmas time
  • Holly tree in berry
  • Dawn in the New Forest National Park
  • winter scene through a holly tree
  • Ancient pollarded Holly (Ilex aquifolium) in a derelict farmyard. Powys, Wales, UK.
  • A Holly tree in snow at Thirlmere, Lake District, UK.
  • Holly tree Ilex aquifolium laden with bright red berries September 2017 Cotswolds UK
  • Holly tree on a sunny blue sky day in the winter in Ross bay cemetery
  • European Holly (Ilex aquifolium) veteran tree, habit, with fruit, Northern Stiperstones, Shropshire, England, december
  • Holly tree with red berries, UK
  • A windswept holly tree in the Quantock Hills near Minehead Somerset Great Britain
  • Christmas green holly leaves and red berries on holly tree (ilex ) all over pattern wallpaper winter outdoor background
  • Yellow and white tabby blue-eyed kitten playing on log in garden beside holly tree with red berries, Midwest USA
  • Male Northern Cardinal in Holly Tree with Snow and Berries
  • Bratley View, New Forest, Hampshire, UK
  • common holly, English holly (Ilex aquifolium), blooming
  • holly tree full of red berries in irish landscape, beauty in nature, evergreen shrub with prickly leaves and red berries growing
  • Berried holly tree near Henley, Oxon., UK.
  • Holly Leaves berries Surrey England October
  • Holly berries; Ilex aquifolium; Cornwall
  • HOLLY TREE, 1581. /nIlex aquifolium. Woodcut.
  • Holly
  • Close-up of Holly Tree showing Leaves and Berries (Ilex sp.)
  • Co Donegal, Ireland; Holly Tree With Muckish In The Distance
  • Charles Dickens ‘s ‘The Holly Tree’ : portrait of Mr and Mrs Harry Walmers and Cobbs. English author, 7 February 1812 – 9 June 1870. Illustration by Harold Copping, 1863-1932.. English novelist: 7 February 1812 – 9 June 1870.
  • Santa Claus in Holly Tree
  • Turdus merula BLACKBIRD FEMALE TAKING BERRY FROM HOLLY TREE
  • Aquifoliaceae Aquifolium Berries Berry Blue Sky Blue Britain British Bush Christmas Christmassy Cloud Clouds Cold Covered
  • Berries and Leaves of Holly Tree. Ilex aquifolium. Natural Park Basque Country, Spain, Europe
  • Holly tree with berries in winter, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.
  • holly tree leaves
  • Snow on holly tree Ilex Ilex Birmingham England UK
  • American Holly tree or Ilex opaca
  • Holly tree laden with berries in October Roath Park Cardiff UK
  • Christmas Starbucks festive paper coffee cup and red holly berries in holly tree Great Britain, UK
  • ARLINGTON, VIRGINIA, USA – Holly bush with red berries and snow.
  • Holly Tree, Ilex aquifolium. With mature berries
  • Holly Tree, in Wood, County Limerick, Ireland
  • Mistle Thrush; Turdus viscivorus; in holly tree
  • Holly tree at the Royal Botanical Garden. Madrid. Spain
  • Small holly tree and grave stone outside Cotswold village church
  • Holly tree laden with berries ilex aquifolium
  • The Holly-tree : Dickens, Charles, 1812-1870
  • Holly tree with red berries
  • holly tree and red berries in the winter
  • BLACKBIRD TURDUS MERULA IN HOLLY TREE SV
  • Common Toad Bufo bufo adult climbing holly tree
  • Holly Tree Farm near Sandbach Cheshire UK
  • Holly tree berries under snow, British Columbia, Canada.
  • English holly tree llex aquifolium in the fall, Vancouver, BC, Canada
  • Holly tree with red berries. Killarney National Park, County Kerry, Ireland
  • American Holly tree or Ilex opaca
  • Burr on the Trunk of a Holly Tree Ilex aquifolium Lake District Cumbria UK
  • Common Holly Tree Ilex Aquifolium against a clear winter sky
  • Close view of the bark and trunk of an American holly tree, Holly llex opaca.
  • Holly Tree, Ilex aquifolium. Berries on tree
  • Holly Tree, in Wood, County Limerick, Ireland
  • redwing Turdus iliacus in holly tree
  • Holly tree at the Royal Botanical Garden. Madrid. Spain
  • Holly Tree green wooden door
  • Knobbly growths on a Holly tree trunk in Holehird Gardens, Windermere, Cumbria, UK.
  • The Holly Tree &amp; The seven poor travellers : Dickens, Charles, 1812-1870
  • Close up of holly tree foliage with bright red berries.
  • Branch of holly tree with berries covered in snow Dec 2017 UK
  • Ancient dwarf gnarled holly tree, in flower, growing on limestone pavement at Mullagh Mor, the Burren, Eire
  • Holly sprig Ilex aquifolium
  • Holly Tree Farm near Sandbach Cheshire UK
  • A holly tree in Autumn with a healthy crop of red berries
  • Close-up of red holly berries on a branch of an English holly tree llex aquifolium in the fall, Vancouver, BC, Canada
  • Holly tree lined stone slab path with slate and pebbles in English Garden
  • A holly tree with red berries against a blue sky in Winter
  • Holly tree sunny day in the winter
  • Common Holly Tree Ilex Aquifolium against a clear winter sky
  • A holly tree bears red fruit.
  • Holly Tree, Ilex aquifolium. Mature berries on tree

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Holly

American holly (Ilex opaca). Photo: John Ruter, University of Georgia, Bugwood.org

Hollies come in many forms, from large trees to dwarf shrubs. Some make excellent hedges, while others shine alone as accent plants.

There are three common hollies native to Florida: American, Yaupon, and Dahoon, as well as a hybrid of American and Dahoon called ‘East Palatka’ holly. Holly plants have many different leaf shapes and vary in size. The growth forms also can vary from upright to weeping types. All four produce the shiny green leaves and red berries we associate with “Christmas holly.”

Holly trees are dioecious, meaning there are both male and female trees. Only the female plants produce berries, which are also a source of food for wildlife.

Characteristics

American holly (Ilex opaca) is found in natural areas and can be used as a landscape tree. This broad-leafed evergreen is beautifully shaped with a symmetrical, dense, wide pyramidal form. The spiny, shiny evergreen leaves are accented with clusters of red berries which persist through fall and winter. The white bark of these trees is of added interest.

Yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria) is native to the South. There are several cultivars offering a variety of forms — from attractive dwarf types that resemble boxwood to large upright or weeping formed trees. Large-growing yaupon hollies can grow to be between 15 and 25 feet tall and will have a spread of about the same width. In the landscape, these evergreen beauties take about ten years to develop the distinctive vase shape they are known for.

Dahoon holly (Ilex cassine). Photo: John Ruter, University of Georgia, Bugwood.org

Dahoon holly (Ilex cassine) has a spread of 8 to 12 feet, and is able to reach heights of 40 feet tall, although it is more often seen at heights between 20 and 30 feet tall. The dark evergreen leaves are 2 to 3 inches long and smooth, supple, and shiny, with a few serrations near the tip. These trees are also known for producing a large number of berries beloved by wildlife.

East Palatka holly (Ilex x attenuata ‘East Palatka’) was discovered growing near East Palatka, Florida in 1927. This holly is a hybrid between I. cassine and I. opaca.

It has broad, dull green, rounded leaves that have a spine at the tip and a few spines along the blade edges. The tree grows to be 30 to 45 feet tall and creates a moderately tight, pyramidal shape. Female holly plants are heavily loaded with bright red berries in fall and winter. They have a uniform appearance which is one of the things that makes them popular additions the landscape.

‘East Palatka’ was found in the wild, but it is one of many cultivated hybrids of American Holly and Dahoon Holly. ‘Savannah’, ‘Fosteri’, are some of the other commercial hybrids.

Planting and Care

Hollies will tolerate a wide range of light and soil conditions. They require minimal pruning, except to train the plants for special purposes or to remove diseased or dead branches. A great feature of these trees is that they have been found to be wind-resistant during a hurricane.

Once your holly is happily established in your yard, use its attractive foliage in indoor arrangements or enjoy watching birds feed on the berries outside. Be aware that male and female flowers appear on separate trees. You will need a male tree within your neighborhood if you want to ensure berry production on a female tree in your landscape.

East Palatka holly (Ilex x attenuata ‘East Palatka).
Photo: Edward Gilman, UF/IFAS.

UF/IFAS Publications

  • Hollies at a Glance
  • Ilex cassine: Dahoon Holly
  • Ilex opaca: American Holly
  • Ilex x attenuata ‘East Palatka’: East Palatka Holly

Also on Gardening Solutions

  • Bad Berries
  • Dwarf Hollies
  • Gardening for Fall Color
  • Holiday Gift Plants
  • Native Trees
  • ‘Nellie R. Stevens’ Holly
  • Underappreciated Native Shade Trees
  • Weeping Yaupon Holly
  • Yaupon Holly

English holly (Ilex aquifolium) is an increasingly common invader of west-side Pacific Northwest forests, but little sitescale information exists about the pattern and processes of this invasion. We comprehensively surveyed English holly in an 8.4 ha area of invaded forest at St. Edward State Park (WA), a largely native forest in the Seattle metropolitan area. We measured, mapped, aged, and removed all holly ≥ 1 cm basal diameter or > 1 m from the nearest sampled holly, and used these data to characterize the invading population and the course of the invasion. Holly in our sample (n = 466 known-age plants; 55.5 stems ha-1) ranged in age from 1 to 46 years. Trees ≥10 years old appeared to have very low mortality rates and exhibited accelerating rates of size increase and biomass accumulation with age. Native vegetation was greatly reduced under holly canopy. Our spatial and age data indicate that holly is proliferating and spreading rapidly at two scales: contiguous, primarily vegetative, expansion of tree clumps, and long distance dispersal via seed. Spread by both mechanisms appears to be accelerating, with population and canopy area both increasing approximately exponentially, having doubling times of approximately 6 and 5 years respectively. Projecting past spread patterns forward suggests that holly has the potential to soon become a prominent species both in number and canopy extent, likely at the expense of native plant diversity and forest structure. Based on these results, we offer recommendations for holly management in forested areas in the region.

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America’s Most Popular Holly

Why American Holly Trees?

True to its name, the American Holly is the most popular Holly cultivar in the country. Why? Well, for starters, it’s disease and pest resistant, making it ideal for creating an effortless hedge or privacy screen. Plus, it’s versatile. American Holly Trees can be trimmed as a foundation hedge or as a secure, tall privacy fence. And they require minimal care, growing in a variety of climates and resisting mildew, disease and insects.

Thick branches grow out from top to bottom, so the American Holly is well-suited to screening and privacy. And bright red berries pop against deep green foliage during winter, and creamy white flowers bloom in the springtime, giving you a variety of color over the seasons.

Why Fast-Growing-Trees.com is Better

Our American Holly is a must-have because we’ve planted, grown and shipped it with absolute care. And since we’ve grown ours with an intact root system, it’s ready to grow by the time it arrives to your door. That means you get versatility, adaptability and great looks.

If you love the festive, eye-catching elegance of Hollies and low-maintenance privacy, all without effort, this is the evergreen for you. Order your American Holly (or Hollies!) today…before they’re gone!

Planting & Care

1. Planting: Plant your American Holly tree in an area that receives full to partial sunlight (4 to 8 hours of sunlight per day). For a hedge or privacy screen, plant your American Hollies about five feet apart. And make sure that your American Holly doesn’t sit in a low area of the yard that collects standing water.
When you’re ready to plant, dig a hole that’s about 2 to 3 times the width of the root ball (and just as deep), place your American Holly and back fill the soil. Add organic material to your soil to lighten the texture and improve drainage. Finally, mulch the surrounding soil to preserve moisture and water once planting is complete.

2. Watering: Keep your soil moist until your tree is established. Once American Holly Trees are established, they’re drought tolerant and only need extra water during dry spells. Until then, we recommend watering about once weekly or checking the surrounding soil for dryness (use your finger to check the soil about 2 inches down).
3. Fertilizing: Each year, in early spring, fertilize your American Holly Tree with a slow-release fertilizer for an acid-loving shrub (something like Holly-Tone).

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Plant Database

Habitat

  • native to eastern and southern United States
  • zone 5 (protected locations)
  • more common in states south of New England

Habit and Form

  • an evergreen small tree
  • can reach up to 50′ in the southeastern United States
  • most landscape plants, especially in the northern half of its range, are 15′ to 30′ tall
  • densely pyramidal when young with branches to the ground
  • becoming slightly more open with maturity, but still maintains roughly a pyramidal shape
  • older plants have horizontal branching

Summer Foliage

  • alternate evergreen leaves
  • 1.5″ to 3.5″ long and about half as wide
  • leaves have short spines
  • dull, dark, green or yellow-green color above and lighter underneath

Autumn Foliage

  • evergreen, no fall color

Flowers

  • dioecious, with male and female plants
  • blooms in June
  • small white flowers
  • male flowers in groups of 3 or more
  • female flowers solitary

Fruit

  • small red fruits, borne on a stalk
  • only on female plants
  • mature in October and persist into the winter
  • good fruiting selections are very showy in fruit
  • need 1 male plant per 3 female plants for good fruit set

Bark

  • smooth until quite old
  • gray-brown

Culture

  • prefers moist, acidic well-drained soil
  • transplant from container or B&B
  • full sun to light shade is best
  • site in protected sites, especially from wind

Landscape Use

  • specimen
  • tall screen
  • for fruit and evergreen foliage
  • large hedge
  • in small groupings
  • tolerant of air pollution an salt

Liabilities

  • lack of solid cold hardiness in zone 5
  • winter burn and injury can occur
  • leaf minor damage
  • leaf spot
  • scale is occasionally problematic
  • fruit only develops on pollinated female plants

ID Features

  • alternate leaves
  • spiny evergreen leaves with dull green color
  • leaves large, up to 3.5″ long
  • spines point out from leaf margins
  • dense pyramidal outline
  • red fruits (if persist) on female plants
  • smooth bark

Propagation

  • cultivars by cuttings taken in late fall
  • seeds possesses deep dormancy

Cultivars/Varieties

As a general rule, only improved selections of I. opaca should be used for landscaping, since they will have superior appearance and utility to most seedlings. There are many cultivars to choose from, but those listed below are most common and/or adapted for New England growing.

‘Canary’ – This is a common representative cultivar of f. xanthocarpa. It is yellow-fruited with abundant fruit production.

‘Clarendon’ (also listed as ‘Clarendon Spreading’) – This is a dwarf, shrubby form reaching 8′ tall and much wider. It bears glossy olive-colored leaves and orange-red berries on a shrubby, spreading frame.

‘Croonenburg’ – This plant is unusual in that it bears both female and male blooms on the same plant, thus it may bear red fruit without a separate pollinator. It is a columnar, dense tree with glossy leaves that are less spiny than normal.

‘Howard’ – An older cultivar that has been used extensively in plantings, this plant has nearly spineless, dark green leaves and abundant red fruit. The habit is columnar and dense.

‘Jersey Knight’ – A male form with good dark green foliage, this Rutgers introduction is a good pollinator.

‘Jersey Princess’ – Widely considered one of the finest fruiting cultivars, this Rutgers offering holds its lustrous green leaf color and bright red fruit well into winter. It is one of the more common commercial cultivars.

‘Maryland Dwarf’ – A very unusual form that is gaining popularity, this compact plant is shrubby and spreading. The mature height is around 3′ tall, but it may spread to 10′. The foliage is glossy and deep green.

‘Old Heavyberry’ (also listed as ‘Old Heavy Berry’) – Widely considered to be one of the best cultivars available, this tree is vigorous with large dark green leaves and profuse large red fruits. It also reportedly possesses very good winter hardiness.

‘Steward’s Silver Crown’ – One of the hardier variegated evergreen hollies, this plant bears leaves edged with cream and red fruit. It should reach 20′ tall. Branches from trees such as this cultivar are frequently harvested for holiday decorations.

f. xanthocarpa – This naturally-occuring variant includes all yellow-fruited forms. It is sometimes listed as a cultivar name. Plants are occasionally found throughout the natural range, including in Massachusetts.

By Julie Christensen

American holly trees (Ilex opaca) were valued long before Europeans arrived. Native Americans dried the berries and used them for buttons or decorations. They also used the hard wood for various purposes. In the landscape, American holly trees make excellent specimen trees, hedges or street trees. Although they can grow to 60 feet tall, they usually remain under 20 or 30 feet. These evergreen trees have an attractive pyramidal form. The leaves are glossy and bright green, with a traditional holly shape and barbed edges. Small, white flowers in spring are followed by clusters of bright-red fruit in the fall. The fruit remains on the trees through the winter and is attractive to wildlife and birds, although it is toxic to humans. American holly trees are dioecious, so be sure to plant a male tree as well as a female to ensure fruit production.

Planting American Holly Tree

Plant American holly trees in spring through summer from potted nursery plants. This tree is hardy in USDA plant hardiness zones 5 through 9. Select a location for American holly with partial to full sun. Although wild holly trees often grow as understory trees in partial shade, the female trees will produce better fruit if they’re planted in full sun.

Plant American holly in moist, well-draining soil with a pH below 6.5. Before planting American holly trees, dig compost or peat moss into the soil to improve drainage. Amend alkaline soils with sulfur and use acidifying fertilizers. Dig a hole as deep as the root ball, and at least twice as wide. Remove the plant from its pot and set it gently in the hole. Fill the hole half full of soil and add two gallons of water. Let the water drain and add the remaining soil, tamping it down firmly.

Water a newly planted tree at least weekly, or as often as needed to keep the soil consistently moist, but not soggy. Once established, American holly trees can tolerate mild drought. In consistently dry conditions, they’ll produce few fruit and the foliage may become thin.

American holly trees grow quite slowly. It’s not uncommon for a tree to grow only 20 to 30 feet in 40 years. The trees may not need any fertilizer, especially if they’re planted in a fertilized lawn, but you can apply an acidifying fertilizer in spring, according to package directions.

Pests and Problems

The most common insect pests that afflict American holly include scale insects and spider mites. Both these insects cause wilting, or speckled or stippled leaves. Treat small trees with insecticidal soap or oil. Larger trees are difficult to treat, but the damage is usually mild.

American holly trees suffer from several fungal and bacterial leaf spots and cankers. In most cases, these diseases aren’t serious. To prevent diseases, keep the tree healthy through adequate watering. Rake up leaf litter and discard promptly. Make sure American holly is planted in moist, but well draining soils to reduce the risk of root rots.

On alkaline soils, American holly trees develop iron chlorosis, which occurs when the trees can’t access iron from the soil. The main symptom is yellow leaves with green veins. To prevent this problem, avoid planting American holly trees on soils with a pH above 6.5. You can also lower the soil pH with sulfur and acidifying fertilizers.

Harsh winter weather can cause the plants to become scorched and browned. If you live in the north, plant American holly trees in an area protected from fierce winds and bright winter sunlight.

American Holly Varieties

  • ‘Howard’ is a compact cultivar with glossy green leaves with few barbs and large berries.
  • ‘Greenleaf’ responds well to pruning, making it the best choice for a hedge form.
  • ‘Canary’ and ‘Morgan Gold’ have yellow fruit, rather than the more common red.

For more information on growing American holly trees, visit the following links:

American Holly from North Carolina State University Extension

American Holly from the Fairfax County Public Schools

American Holly on YouTube.

Julie Christensen learned about gardening on her grandfather’s farm and mother’s vegetable garden in southern Idaho. Today, she lives and gardens on the high plains of Colorado. When she’s not digging in the dirt, Julie writes about food, education, parenting and gardening.

Description: This single-trunked tree is typically 30-60′ tall at maturity, forming a rounded pyramidal crown from a dense network of short crooked branches. On older trees, trunk bark is light gray, shallowly furrowed, and warty, otherwise it is light gray and more smooth. Branch bark is also light green and relatively smooth. The bark of both trunk and larger branches is often discolored from lichens. Twigs are gray or brown and smooth, while young shoots are light green to tan and either glabrous or hairy. Evergreen alternate leaves occur along the twigs and young shoots. The leaf blades are 2-4″ long and ¾-2″ across; they are broadly elliptic or ovate and shallowly lobed (pinnatifid). The lobes and tips of the leaf blades terminate in sharp spiny teeth. The upper blade surface is yellowish green or green and somewhat shiny, while the lower surface is more pale and dull; both sides of the blade are hairless. The texture of the leaf blades is stiff and leathery. The petioles are short, light green, and often pubescent.
American Holly is dioecious, forming male (staminate) and female (pistillate) flowers on separate trees. Male trees produce axillary clusters of 3-12 male flowers on peduncles about 1″ long. Individual male flowers are about ¼” across, consisting of a short green calyx with 4 lobes, 4 greenish white or yellowish white petals, and 4 stamens. Female trees produce female flowers individually or in groups of 2-3 (rarely more). Individual female flowers are about ¼” across, consisting of a short green calyx with 4 lobes, 4 greenish white or yellowish white petals, 4 residual stamens that are infertile, and a green pistil. The petals of both male and female flowers are oblong in shape. The peduncle and pedicels of the flowers are green and either hairless or sparsely pubescent. The blooming period occurs during late spring or early summer for about 3 weeks. Cross-pollination between a male tree and a female tree is required in order for the latter to set fruit. Fertile female flowers are replaced by drupes that become mature during the fall. Mature drupes are about 1/3″ (8 mm.) across and either bright red or orange-red (rarely yellow). The fleshy interior of each drupe has a bitter taste. This tree spreads by reseeding itself.
Cultivation: The preference is light shade to full sun, moist to mesic well-drained conditions, and a somewhat acidic soil. American Holly adapts to soil containing sand, rocky material, or loam. Flowers and fruits can be produced in less than 10 years. This tree grows slowly and can live up to 150 years. Individual evergreen leaves persist on a tree for about 3 years before they are replaced. Severe winter cold can cause die-back of branches and twigs. Sometimes the leaves are damaged by leaf-spot fungi and various kinds of mildew.
Range & Habitat: The native American Holly is a rare tree in Illinois, occurring in only a single county in southern Illinois (see Distribution Map). This tree is more common in southeastern United States, particularly in sandy areas along the Atlantic coast. In Illinois, American Holly has been found along a rocky wooded slope. Outside of the state, it occurs in such habitats as well-drained areas of bottomland woodlands, rocky upland woodlands, and sandy savannas. These wooded areas often contain both coniferous trees (primarily southern pines) and deciduous trees (oaks and miscellaneous others). Because of its slow growth and tolerance of shade, American Holly is often an understory tree in these habitats. Because of its thin bark, it is easily killed by wildfires. Because of its ornamental qualities, American Holly is often cultivated as a small- to medium-sized landscape tree.
Faunal Associations: The nectar and pollen of the flowers attract various insects, including bees, wasps, ants, flies, and moths. While this tree was being photographed in an urban park, the author of this website observed Spring Azure butterflies (Celastrina argiolus) sucking nectar from the flowers. Other insects feed more destructively on American Holly. These species include caterpillars of the moth Metaxaglaea violacea (Holly Sallow), the fly larvae of Phytomyza ilicicola (Native Holly Leafminer) and Phytomyza ilicis (Holly Leafminer), the fruit-eating larvae of Asphondylia ilicicola (Holly Midge), and Asterolecanium puteanum (Holly Pit Scale). An arachnid invertebrate, Oligonychus ilicis (Southern Red Mite), also feeds on American Holly, damaging the leaves and twigs. The colorful and somewhat bitter fruit of American Holly is consumed primarily by birds and, to a lesser extent, by some mammals. Birds that eat the fruits include the Wild Turkey, Bobwhite, Northern Flicker, Northern Mockingbird, and Cedar Waxwing; the Bird Table provides a more complete listing of these species. Mammals that feed on the fruits include the Raccoon, Striped Skunk, Fox Squirrel, Gray Squirrel, and White-Footed Mouse. Because of their low palatability and mild toxicity, the leafy branches are not preferred as a food source by mammalian herbivores. However, when little else is available, White-Tailed Deer and domesticated cattle occasionally browse on them.
Photographic Location: Crystal Lake Park in Urbana, Illinois.
Comments: American Holly is an interesting tree with attractive foliage and fruit. Among evergreen broad-leaved trees, it is the most cold-hardy in North America and can be grown north of its native range (if appropriate cultivars are selected). Because of saponins and the bitter compound ilicin, the fruit is not palatable to humans. Other species of the Holly family in Illinois are deciduous-leaved shrubs that do not attain the tree-like stature of American Holly; their deciduous leaves are neither leathery nor spiny. A non-native species, Ilex aquifolium (English Holly) does resemble American Holly, except it is somewhat smaller in size and its evergreen leaves and fruit are more shiny. While English Holly is occasionally cultivated, it does not adapt well to a continental climate and it apparently has not naturalized within the state.

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