Scientific Name:

Ilex opaca

Common Name:

American Holly

Scientific Name Pronounciation:

EYE-lecks oh-PAK-uh

Plant Type:


Plant Hardiness Zones:


Plant Hardiness Zone(s):

Usual Size:

15-30 ft. H X 18-35 ft. W; can grow to 50 ft. tall in the wild.


Plants are dioecious (having separate male and female flowers. Male flowers are dull green-white and grow in clusters of 3-7; female flowers are solitary and have a pleasant scent.

Bloom Time Notes:



Alternate, evergreen, 2-4 inches long, leathery, with spiny tipped teeth along the margin.


The berry ripens in fall and is red or rarely yellow, about 1/4 inch in diameter, and contains ribbed seed.


Birds love the berries.

Natural Habitat:

Moist woodlands and bottomlands.


Seed planted November-February outdoors; cuttings can be taken in late fall.

Bloom Time:

Sun or Shade:

Companion Plants:

Cultural Notes:

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.


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