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Ilex aquifolium is often confused with:
Ilex x aquipernyi
Ilex x 'Nellie R. Stevens' Ilex x 'Nellie R. Stevens'
Native alternative(s) for Ilex aquifolium:
Ilex opaca Ilex opaca
Plants that fill a similar niche:
Ilex cornuta 'Burfordii' Ilex cornuta 'Burfordii Nana'
Ilex latifolia Ilex latifolia
Ilex opaca Ilex opaca

English Holly Ilex aquifolium

Other plants called English Holly:

Previously known as:

  • Aquifolium ilex
  • Ilex vulgaris
Phonetic Spelling
EYE-leks a-kwee-FOH-lee-um
This plant has low severity poison characteristics.
See below
Description

English holly is a large, ornamental, flowering, evergreen tree or shrub in the Aquifoliaceae or holly family. The plant is the traditional Christmas holly in Europe and is used for decoration. This slow-growing tree can reach 30 to 50 feet tall and 15 to 25 feet wide. It can be allowed to grow to its full height or pruned and trained as a 10 or 15-foot hedge. It has an erect, pyramidal habit, and is densely branched. The leaves are leathery, glossy, dark green, and have spiny teeth. Clusters of small fragrant white flowers appear in the spring. Plants in this species are dioecious or have separate male and female plants. The female plant requires a male pollinator to produce fruit. If the flowers are pollinated, reddish drupes will ripen in the late summer to fall. 

The English holly is native to Europe, North Africa, and Western Asia. It is often found in well-drained soils in scrub, hedges, and woodland where it is often the dominant under-story shrub. In the United States, the plant thrives and has become naturalized in the Pacific Northwest. It is listed on the invasive plant list in Oregon, California, and Alaska. It is also invasive in Redwood National Park and Yosemite National Park.

The genus name, Ilex, comes from the Latin name, Quercus ilex, for holm oak, and refers to the foliage similarities. The specific epithet, aquifolium, comes from the Latin word acus, meaning needle, and folium, meaning leaf.

This plant prefers full to partial sun and protection from the cold winter winds. It dislikes hot and humid summers and typically does not perform well in the southern United States.  It performs best in moist, well-drained soils, and is intolerant to poorly drained soils. It can grow in heavy clay and nutritionally poor or very acidic soils. Prune in the winter as needed to maintain its shape. The plant is pollinated by bees, and the birds are attracted to its fruits.

The English holly has over 200 cultivars. They are often grouped as non-variegated or variegated. The variegated groups have leaves with whitish margins or yellowish margins. Some have blotches or spots.

The ornamental English holly is effective as a specimen plant, grouped as a tall hedge or foundation planting. The foliage and fruit provide winter interest. It dislikes cold winters and is difficult to grow in the lower Midwest and Southern United States. In the south, sometimes the English holly is grafted to the Nellie R. Stevens Holly, to improve success.

Seasons of Interest:

Bloom:  Spring     Foliage:  Year-round        Fruits:  Late Summer, Fall, and Winter

Quick ID Hints:  

  • erect, dense, pyramidal evergreen tree or shrub
  • smooth, gray to black bark
  • alternate, simple, elliptic, spiny, dark green, leathery, glossy, evergreen leaves
  • clusters of small white fragrant flowers in the spring
  • if female flowers pollinated, small red drupes appear in late summer to winter

Insects, Diseases, and Other Plant Problems: The English holly has no serious insect pests or diseases. If the tree or shrub is grown in excessively wet conditions, it may develop root rot, anthracnose, tar spot, leaf blight, or cankers. 

The Clemson Cooperative Extension Home and Garden Information Center has a factsheeton common Diseases and Insect Pests.

VIDEO created by Ryan Contreras for “Landscape Plant Materials I:  Deciduous Hardwoods and Conifers or Landscape Plant Materials II:  Spring Flowering Trees and Shrubs” a plant identification course offered by the Department of Horticulture at Oregon State University

Profile Video:
See this plant in the following landscape:
Cultivars / Varieties:
  • 'Aquifodina'
  • 'Argentea'
  • 'Britebush'
  • 'Crinkle Variegated'
  • 'Dapper'
  • 'Ferox Argentena'
  • 'Ivory'
  • 'Marginata'
    Spiny glossy green leaves with showy yellow leaf margins, variegeted, 40 feet high.
  • 'Moonbeam'
  • 'Zelta's Elite'
'Aquifodina', 'Argentea', 'Britebush', 'Crinkle Variegated', 'Dapper', 'Ferox Argentena', 'Ivory', 'Marginata', 'Moonbeam', 'Zelta's Elite'
Tags:
#cultivars#fragrant#thorns#evergreen#fragrant flowers#specimen#pyramidal#winter interest#fall interest#air pollution tolerant#showy fruits#specialized bees#poisonous fruits#dioecious#spines#glossy leaves#foundation planting#red fruits#spiny leaves#pollinator plant#evergreen shrub#evergreen tree#bird friendly#problem for cats#problem for dogs#bee friendly#problem for horses#heat intolerant#humidity intolerant#poisonous if ingested#landscape plant sleuths course#hedge#wildlife friendly
 
Cultivars / Varieties:
  • 'Aquifodina'
  • 'Argentea'
  • 'Britebush'
  • 'Crinkle Variegated'
  • 'Dapper'
  • 'Ferox Argentena'
  • 'Ivory'
  • 'Marginata'
    Spiny glossy green leaves with showy yellow leaf margins, variegeted, 40 feet high.
  • 'Moonbeam'
  • 'Zelta's Elite'
'Aquifodina', 'Argentea', 'Britebush', 'Crinkle Variegated', 'Dapper', 'Ferox Argentena', 'Ivory', 'Marginata', 'Moonbeam', 'Zelta's Elite'
Tags:
#cultivars#fragrant#thorns#evergreen#fragrant flowers#specimen#pyramidal#winter interest#fall interest#air pollution tolerant#showy fruits#specialized bees#poisonous fruits#dioecious#spines#glossy leaves#foundation planting#red fruits#spiny leaves#pollinator plant#evergreen shrub#evergreen tree#bird friendly#problem for cats#problem for dogs#bee friendly#problem for horses#heat intolerant#humidity intolerant#poisonous if ingested#landscape plant sleuths course#hedge#wildlife friendly
  • Attributes:
    Genus:
    Ilex
    Species:
    aquifolium
    Family:
    Aquifoliaceae
    Uses (Ethnobotany):
    The wood is strong, hard and dense and polishes well, though it must be well dried and seasoned or else it warps badly. It is white, except at the center of very old trees, and is highly regarded by cabinet makers though it must be well seasoned.
    Life Cycle:
    Woody
    Recommended Propagation Strategy:
    Seed
    Stem Cutting
    Country Or Region Of Origin:
    Western and Central Europe, northern Africa, western Asia
    Distribution:
    Native: Albania, Algeria, Baleares, Belgium Bulgaria, Denmark, France, Germany, Great Britain, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Morocco, Netherlands, New South Wales, Norway, Portugal, Romania, Sicilia, Spain, Switzerland, Tunisia, and Yugoslavia. Extinct: Sweden. Introduced: British Columbia, Lebanon-Syria, New Zealand North, New Zealand South, Ontario, South Australia, Tasmania, Turkey, and the United States--CA, HI, NJ, OR, VA, and WA.
    Wildlife Value:
    Fruits are attractive to birds. Members of the genus Ilex support the following specialized bee: Colletes banksi.
    Play Value:
    Attracts Pollinators
    Screening
    Wildlife Food Source
    Edibility:
    Use caution. Human ingestion of berries can cause minor toxic reaction.
    Dimensions:
    Height: 30 ft. 0 in. - 50 ft. 0 in.
    Width: 15 ft. 0 in. - 25 ft. 0 in.
  • Whole Plant Traits:
    Plant Type:
    Shrub
    Tree
    Woody Plant Leaf Characteristics:
    Broadleaf Evergreen
    Habit/Form:
    Dense
    Erect
    Pyramidal
    Growth Rate:
    Slow
    Maintenance:
    Medium
    Texture:
    Coarse
    Appendage:
    Spines
    Thorns
  • Cultural Conditions:
    Light:
    Full sun (6 or more hours of direct sunlight a day)
    Partial Shade (Direct sunlight only part of the day, 2-6 hours)
    Soil Texture:
    Clay
    High Organic Matter
    Loam (Silt)
    Sand
    Soil pH:
    Acid (<6.0)
    Neutral (6.0-8.0)
    Soil Drainage:
    Good Drainage
    Moist
    Available Space To Plant:
    12-24 feet
    24-60 feet
    NC Region:
    Coastal
    Mountains
    Piedmont
    USDA Plant Hardiness Zone:
    7a, 7b, 8a, 8b, 9a, 9b
  • Fruit:
    Fruit Color:
    Gold/Yellow
    Orange
    Red/Burgundy
    Fruit Value To Gardener:
    Showy
    Display/Harvest Time:
    Fall
    Winter
    Fruit Type:
    Berry
    Drupe
    Fruit Length:
    < 1 inch
    Fruit Width:
    < 1 inch
    Fruit Description:
    The berries or drupes range in color from red, yellow, or orange and measure 1/4 inch in diameter. Each berry contains four seeds. The berries ripen from August to October and may persist into winter. The fruits are very attractive to birds
  • Flowers:
    Flower Color:
    Insignificant
    White
    Flower Inflorescence:
    Insignificant
    Flower Value To Gardener:
    Fragrant
    Flower Bloom Time:
    Spring
    Flower Petals:
    4-5 petals/rays
    Flower Size:
    < 1 inch
    Flower Description:
    The flowers appear in clusters of small insignificant white fragrant blooms that bloom from May to June. Male and female plants are required to produce berries.
  • Leaves:
    Woody Plant Leaf Characteristics:
    Broadleaf Evergreen
    Leaf Color:
    Green
    Leaf Feel:
    Glossy
    Prickly
    Slippery
    Smooth
    Leaf Value To Gardener:
    Showy
    Leaf Type:
    Simple
    Leaf Arrangement:
    Alternate
    Leaf Shape:
    Elliptical
    Leaf Margin:
    Undulate
    Hairs Present:
    No
    Leaf Length:
    1-3 inches
    Leaf Width:
    1-3 inches
    Leaf Description:
    The leaves are thick, glossy, wavy, alternate, and dark green. They are simple, measure 1 to 3 inches long, and have spiny teeth along the margins.
  • Bark:
    Bark Color:
    Black
    Dark Gray
    Surface/Attachment:
    Smooth
    Bark Description:
    The bark is smooth and maybe gray to black.
  • Stem:
    Stem Is Aromatic:
    No
  • Landscape:
    Landscape Location:
    Woodland
    Landscape Theme:
    Cottage Garden
    Pollinator Garden
    Winter Garden
    Design Feature:
    Foundation Planting
    Hedge
    Screen/Privacy
    Specimen
    Attracts:
    Bees
    Pollinators
    Songbirds
    Specialized Bees
    Resistance To Challenges:
    Pollution
    Salt
    Problems:
    Poisonous to Humans
    Problem for Cats
    Problem for Children
    Problem for Dogs
    Problem for Horses
    Spines/Thorns
    Weedy
  • Poisonous to Humans:
    Poison Severity:
    Low
    Poison Symptoms:
    Vomiting, diarrhea, and depression. Leaves and berries are low toxicity and it is only in very large doses that problems are likely to arise. Fruits particularly poisonous to children
    Poison Toxic Principle:
    Saponins
    Causes Contact Dermatitis:
    No
    Poison Part:
    Fruits