January 2023 - American Holly

Common Name:  American Holly

Botanical Name:  Ilex opaca

Native Range:  Native to New Jersey and throughout central and northeastern North America, in USDA Hardiness Zones 5 to 9. 

Height: Its mature size varies, depending on its location.  Its typical mature height is 40- 50 feet.

Spread: Crown is 25 to 50 feet wide in ideal conditions. 

Form: Grows in a pyramidal shape.

Growth Rate: Slow to moderate growth rate depending on location. Described by horticulturist Michael Dirr as a slow starter. 

Sun:   Thrives in full sun but can tolerate part shade. The part shade may impact the overall growth. 

Soil: Prefers moist, acidic, loose, well-drained soil.

Leaf Description:  Alternate, simple evergreen leaves ranging from one half to three inches in length. American Holly maintains their green color year-round. Leaves are approximately 2”-3” long with spines all over. 

Fall Color:  Evergreen

Flower Description: Produces greenish or cream flowers with a notably pleasant aroma. American Holly is dioecious; male and female flowers are on separate trees. The male flowers are larger and more colorful than the female flowers.

Fruit: Female trees contain red berries that ripen in October that persist through the winter. Male and Female trees planted in proximity are needed for fruit display. 

Bark Description: Relatively smooth gray bark.

Wildlife Benefit: Mature trees provide shelter for birds and small wildlife. The berries are a winter favorite of birds. 

Tolerates:  Tolerates a wide variety of soil and Princeton deer populations. 

Possible Disease and Insect Problems: Leaf chlorosis in high Ph, holly leaf miner, holly scale, and spittlebugs can be a problem.

Where to be found on municipal property:  

  • American Holly can be found throughout the Gulick Preserve entering at the dead end Terhune section behind Dodds Lane. 

Additional Facts:

  • Needs shelter from the drying effects of wind.
  • Native Americans used berries for buttons and barter.
  • Wood can be used for lathe work.
  • Used in groupings, screens, and as a specimen plant in the home landscape. 
  • Said to be a favorie of George Washinton. More than a dozen hollies he planted are still evident today in Mount Vernon. 
  • Raw material for Christmas wreaths.
  • American Holly wood has been used to make a variety of funiture, bowls, and canes.
  • There are more than 1000 cultivars of American Holly.
  • American Holly is the state tree of Delaware.
  • Superstition once surrounded American Holly. It was once believed that planting hollies near buildings would provide protection from witchcraft and lightening. 
  • Once believed that the flowers of holly could be used to turn water to into ice.
  • Holly flowers once represented hope and wealth.


Dirr, M. A.; Manual of Woody Landscape Plants. 2019

ww.uky.edu › hort › American-HollyAmerican Holly | Department of Horticulture
 www.arborday.org › trees › treeGuideAmerican Holly Tree on the Tree Guide at arborday.org

mdc.mo.gov › field-guide › american-hollyAmerican Holly | Missouri Department of Conservation




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