Ilex opaca, American Holly

Tried and True Native Plant Selections for the Mid-Atlantic

In the 1930s Delaware surpassed all states in producing decorations made of American Holly, which flourished in its countryside and became its State Tree in 1939. Still common in the Coastal Plain and southeastern Pennsylvania, its frequency lessens moving through  the Piedmont into the mountains of Maryland and Virginia. Today commercial demand for holly has declined, but its value in the landscape has not. It comes into its glory as temperatures drop and berry-like fruits ripen to brighten the winter scenery.

Print version:Ilex opaca, American Holly

Ilex opaca, American Holly Tree Height: 15–40 feet Spread: 10–20 feet Bloom Color: Greenish whiteCharacteristics Slow-growing, upright, pyramidal, evergreen tree Dioecious: separate male and female plants Thick, spiny, dull green leaves stay on branches for 2–3 years (more sheen on cultivar foliage) Inconspicuous greenish white flowers in May Brilliant red berry-like drupes October to winter; separate male plant needed for females to bear fruit Lichens often present on smooth, gray trunk Attributes Tolerates clay soil and shade; dislikes winter wind; susceptible to insect (e.g., scale) and leaf problems; deer rarely damage Winter interest; used for holiday decorations Ethnobotanic uses; drupes may be harmful if eaten Attracts at least 18 bird species and deer to fruit; provides cover and nesting sites for some birds Growing and Maintenance Tips Soil Requirements: Average, well-drained Light Requirements: Sun, Partial Shade Water Requirements: Moist Plant 1 male for every 3 females (of same species with same bloom time) within 200 feet of each other Use as specimen or tall hedge Hardiness: USDA Zones 5–9 Excellent Replacement for X Cupressocyparis leylandii - Leyland Cypress Ilex aquifolium - English Holly Ilex cornuta - Chinese Holly

Learn more about other Mid-Atlantic plants: Tried and True Plant Fact Sheets