American Holly

American Holly   (aka Christmas Holly, Prickly Holly, Evergreen Holly)
Ilex opaca
Family: Holly Family (Aquifoliaceae)


  • 15 m (30 m) 10-50′ (100′)
  • slow growing


  • 6-24″ (48″)


  • conical/triangular
  • dense
  • narrow
  • less dense in wild trees


  • evergreen (but broadleaved/not needles)American Holly Ilex
  • alternate
  • elliptical
  • spiny teeth, hard pointy/spiky spines
  • spines are more numerous on lower branches
  • glossy, shiny, stiff, leathery
  • 10 cm (2-4″)
  • deeper green above and yellowish green below
  • prominent veins
  • stay on tree for 3 years until they fall off in the spring (evergreen)



  • extend upwards at the end of branches


  • numerous hairs in young shoots
  • young shoots are reddish-brown and then turn brown



  • May-June
  • greenish-white
  • male staminate flowers cymes of 3-9
  • female pistillate flowers in clusters of 1-3
  • male and female flowers are on separate trees


  • fleshy hard round drupes that resemble berries
  • fruit doesn’t soften when ripe
  • on female trees
  • ripens in the fall
  • persists on the tree in the winter
  • 6 mm, 0.3 in
  • bright red, tough, shiny skin
  • yellow flesh
  • each has 4 yellowish brown grooved nutlets/seeds inside
  • ovoid
  • in clusters

BarkAmerican Holly Ilex

  • greenish to light gray
  • smooth
  • warty
  • thin


  • pointed
  • green
  • small/minute


  • buds nearly glabose
  • bundle scars single
  • stipules/tiny spines


American Holly IlexRange

  • North: Massachusetts Coast
  • Southeastern: central Florida
  • West: Arkansas, Southeastern Texas, Missouri, Tennessee, Kentucky Mountains
  • Southeastern:
  • many cultivars used as a landscape plant


  • moist, fertile woodlands, fertile soils, bottom-lands, often near rivers and streams, coastal plains, sandy soil


  • Foliage sprays used as Christmas decorations (economic value)
  • lumbar is ivory in color, used for musical instruments, inlays, piano keys, model ships

Food Web

  • songbirds and turkeys eat the fruit
  • toxic to some animals

Other Characteristics

  • one of the most easily recognized tree in Eastern United States

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