American Holly
Ilex opaca - Aiton
Aquifoliaceae (Holly) Family


American Holly is also known as Holly and White Holly. The Latin, opaca, means simply that the plant could be invasive, i.e., if a habitat is created it will appear among the first plant growth to be seen.

The plant is an evergreen, much-
branched, thicket-forming tree with a narrow rounded, open crown. Preferred habitat is moist or wet well-drained soils, especially in flood zones and in mixed hardwood forests. Distribution is throughout the Escambia region.

The leaves are spreading in two rows, 2-4 inches long and approximately 2 inches wide; elliptic in shape (widest at the middle); spiny-pointed and coarsely spiny-toothed; thick, stiff and leathery; dull green above and yellow-green beneath.

Flowers are typically small with 4 rounded white petals, in short clusters at the base of new leaves and along old twigs; appearing in early spring. Male and female flowers are on separate plants.

Fruit is bright red (rarely orange) and berry-like, consisting of 4 brown nutlets surrounded by bitter pulp. The berries are scattered along the stem at the base of leaves where flowers appeared (remale plant only); maturing in late autumn and usually remaining attached throughout the winter.

The branches from wild and planted trees are popular Christmas decorations. Many improved varieties are grown for ornament, shade and hedges; Burford, Dahoon, Savannah, Chinese, Box-leaf, Carissa, Needlepoint, Rotunda, Topel, and Dwarf.

The fine-textured wood is especially suited for cabinet inlays, utility handles, carvings, and rulers; well adapted to various color dye. Numerous songbirds, gamebirds, and mammals eat the bitter berries as winter food.

Chinese Holly, I. cornuta - Lindley & Paxton

The leaves of Chinese Holly are evergreen, short leaf stalk, oblong-rectangular with 3 strong, almost equal, spines at the board apex and 1 or 2 spines on each side at the base. The spines can vary from 5 to 9, or on older plants rounded at the base, lustrious dark green above, yellow-green below. The leaves of old specimens show fewer spines, almost plastic in texture, extremely lethal to work around.

Popular Holly Hybrids

Buford's Holly, Ilex bufordii


Foster's Holly, I. attenuata

Foster's Holly is sometimes called Topel Holley. The leaves are evergreen, alternate on the stem, elliptic to oblong-ovate, about 3 inches long and 3/4 inch wide, spiny-pointed with 1 to 3 spreading spiny teeth on each side or the leaf margin near the tip, glossy dark green. Foster holly is a chance hybrid that occurred between a narrow-leafed form of the Dahoon Holly (I. cassine var. angustifolia) as the female parent and American Holly (I. opaca) as the male. The trees grow 25 to 30 feet tall with a spread of 6 to 8 feet, giving them a narrow, conical form.


Variegated Needlepoint Holly, Ilex cornuta

Common Needlepoint Holly


Carissa Holly, Ilex cornuta


The Carissa habit is a compact, densely branching mound. The foliage is lustrous, waxy dark green above, flat olive green beneath. The leaves have one soft spine on the tip and are up to 3 inches long, quite similar to Needlepoint Holly. Needlepoint is usually widest above the middle whereas Carissa is widest at the middle. New growth can revert back to a seven-spine leaf ('Carissa' was developed as a branch sport of 'Rotunda'); this growth should be pruned out as soon as detected.


Round-leaf Holly, I. cornuta (Cultivar)

Round-leaf Holly is a variation on the Chinese Holly. The leaf is exactly the same but is more curved. The spines are placed so that the whole leaf creates an almost geometric circle in outline. Glossy green in color and measuring 2-1/2 to 3 inches long.


Mary Nell Holly

'Mary Nell' is actually the result of a second generation cross; the combination of three Hollies, first Ilex cornuta 'Burfordii' was crossed with Ilex pernyi 'Red Delight' the result of this cross was then crossed with Ilex latifolia. Mary Nell Holly gets 10-15 feet in height and 6-8 feet in width and has oval, minutely scalloped light green leaves with points on each tip. This holly is very similar to the Savannah Holly except Savannah usually has spines from the middle to the apex and larger than those of Foster's, East Palatka, and Hume #2.


Nelly R. Stevens Holly

The 'Nellie R. Stevens' is a cross between Ilex aquifolium and Ilex cornuta (Chinese Holly) and has a dense, conical growth habit. This Holly can get up to 20-30 feet tall and 12 feet wide. Nellie R. Stevens is a female and produces an abundance of red berries and sets fruit without a male, but is heavier with one. The leaves have spines that come in 1s, 3s or 5s and a downward curl. Nellie R. Stevens is somewhat soil adaptable and is one of the best Holly plants for the South

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