American Holly

Now that the wheel of the year has brought us back into winter, our native holly trees sparkle in the surrounding forests once again.
I’ve found this 2013 post about our beautiful native Ilex opaca in the Forest Garden archives, and offer it again for your enjoyment.

Forest Garden

American Holly on the Colonial Parkway near Jamestown.American Hollies on the Colonial Parkway near Jamestown.


Once most of the leaves have fallen in late autumn the woods just light up with our beautiful native holly trees.  It is their time to sparkle in the wintery sunshine.  Their broad, evergreen leaves are waxy on top and reflect what light reaches them through the forest canopy, and their berries have turned bright scarlet.  Unobtrusive throughout the summer, they are among the few forest trees, along with our white pines, cedars, and Magnolias, which remain bright green and covered in leaves throughout the year.


Red berries appear only on female holly trees growing near a male tree.Red berries appear only on female holly trees growing near a male tree.


The American Holly, Ilex opaca, is native along the Eastern seaboard in zones 5-9 from southern Connecticut south to Florida, and west into Eastern Texas.  A sub variety, I. Opaca “Arenicola,”  also known as “scrub holly”, grows in the…

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About woodlandgnome

Lifelong teacher and gardener.

12 responses to “American Holly

  1. I’m happy you can enjoy Holly… In the Northwest it’s an invasive. Made sad to pull it out of our woods.

    • Happy New Year, Jane! I’m so pleased to hear from you! I didn’t know that Ilex opaca is considered invasive in the Northwest. Very, very sad…. Your lovely Mahonia aquifolium isn’t on our invasive list, but it reseeds around here beautifully! We enjoy it massively and use it freely. We got the better end of that trade ❤ ❤ ❤

      • It is too bad about the holly. When the sun was out briefly, yesterday, I noticed a bright red glow in the woods that adjoins our side yard. A glance through the binoculars… yep… an enormous clump of holly berries. Very pretty, even though…

  2. Would you believe that we lack American holly here? I saw one specimen in an arboretum while I was a student, but have not seen it again. That was about in 1986! I happen to like hollies, but the most popular ones here are also the types that do not do so well.

    • It amazes me, Tony, how we can grow plants from China and Japan, but can’t necessarily grow a tree or shrub that thrives on the West Coast. We love Mahonia, but there are others I see out there that are unknown here. It is ironic that you don’t have the beautiful Ilex opaca in California. One of the oddest trees I’ve seen recently is OR is called the Monkey Puzzle tree, Araucaria araucana, native to S. America. Another reason it is great to have a chance to travel, and see sights different from those back home 😉

      • Oh, that one is NASTY! That is why it is rare. The Norfolk Island pine, Araucaria heterophylla is more common in the milder climates of Southern California, and has friendlier foliage. There are at least two forms of it; one is upright and weirdly symmetrical. The other is irregular an leaning. Then there is the bunya bunya, Araucaria bidwillii, which was popular among old Victorian gardens. Many died in the Big Chill of 1990. They were very difficult to work with and remove after death because the leaf scales are SO dangerously sharp! Monkey puzzle tree is the worst of all. It grows very slowly, and there are not many left, but no one wants to work with it. The dangerously sharp leaf scales cover the heavy limbs, so arborists can not even climb it!

        • Thanks for this info, Tony. We saw the Monkey Puzzle trees growing in coastal OR and they looked so odd that they caught our attention. I almost ordered one last month to be delivered as a potted tree to my daughter, but settled on a potted spruce instead. (You reinforced that it was the better choice 😉 I’m glad to know its downside. My potted Norfolk Island Pine lasted about six years living inside through the winter and on the patio from late spring through late fall. It got too big and I decided it isn’t a good companion plant for us indoors. Too prickly! Ours was the leaning kind, sadly. Thanks for this great information! Cheers!

  3. What magnificent trees those are indeed!

  4. Hi woodlandgnome! At this time of the year, SoundEagle would like to gift and greet you with more lovely and fluffy Snowflakes, even animated ones, plus a lovely poem about Snowflakes, at

    Happy New Year to you!

    May you realize all of your visions and achieve whatever goals you have set yourself in 2019!

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