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Ilex crenata

Previously known as:

  • Ilex crenata f. genuina
  • Ilex crenata var. typica
Phonetic Spelling
EYE-leks kre-NAY-tuh
This plant has low severity poison characteristics.
See below
Description

Japanese holly is a handsome, evergreen shrub or small tree in the Aquifoliaceae family. The shrub is dense, multi-stemmed, rigid and compact with a rounded habit. It may grow 5 to 10 feet tall and 5 to 8 feet wide. Many cultivars of this plant are even more compact and only grow 3 to 4 feet tall. The plant tolerates severe pruning and you will find this plant often used to make topiaries. The leaves are small, alternate, glossy deep green with crenate to serrulate margins. Clusters of small white flowers bloom in the spring. These plants are dioecious, meaning that a separate male and female plant must be present for the female to be pollinated and produce fruit. If the female plant produces fruits, they are small, black, round drupes that ripen in the fall.

This holly is a native of Japan and east Asia and can be found in thickets, woods, and wet places in lowlands and mountains all over Japan.

The genus name, Ilex, comes from the Latin, Quercus ilex, for holm oak, and refers to the similarity of the leaves. The specific epithet, crenata, refers to the crenate margins or shallow teeth on the edges of the leaves.

Plant in the full sun to partial shade in acidic well-drained soil, although it tolerates a wide range of soil types, from moist to dry, including clay. The shrub can be pruned to manage its size so it works well in small spaces. It tolerates drought, shade, air pollution, poor soils, and clay soils and is easy to transplant. It does have a slow growth rate and it may not thrive in areas with high heat and humidity such as the southern United States or in USDA zones 8 and 9. It is also best to plant this shrub in protected areas to prevent damage from winter's cold winds.

The Japanese holly is pollinated by bees and is not self-fertile. Its leaves resemble boxwood, but the Japanese holly is hardier and more disease resistant. 

There are many cultivars available and used in landscaping; the parent species is rarely seen. It is abundantly planted as an ornamental in North Carolina.  It may be used as a border, foundation planting, hedge, small groups, or mass plantings.

Seasons of Interest:

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

Quick ID Hints:

  • dense, multi-stemmed, rigid, and compact shrub or small tree with a rounded habit
  • small, alternate, glossy deep green leaves with crenate to serrulate margins
  • undersides of the leaves as translucent glands or black dots
  • clusters of small 4-petaled white flowers with greenish centers that bloom in the spring
  • small, black, round drupes that ripen in the fall.

Insects, Diseases, and Other Plant Problems: The Japanese holly has no serious insect pests or diseases. Spider mites and nematodes are occasional pests.  Aphids, scales, holly leaf miners, and holly leaf blight may also be seen. Alkaline soils will cause the leaves to yellow.

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 landscapes:
Woodland Backyard Garden Walk Mountain Ridge Top Garden - North Lawn and Upper Drive Border Mountain Ridge Top Garden - East Lawn and Lower Drive Border
Cultivars / Varieties:
'Compacta', 'Convexa', 'Drops of gold', 'Geisha', 'Golden Gem', 'Green Luster', 'Helleri', 'Hetzii', 'Hoogendorn', 'Latifolia', 'Sky Pencil', 'Sky Pointer', 'Snowflake', 'Soft Touch', 'Stokes', 'Twiggy'
Tags:
#cultivars#small tree#full sun tolerant#small spaces#drought tolerant#white flowers#shrub#slow growing#broadleaf evergreen#winter interest#cottage garden#mass planting#hedges#poisonous fruits#deer resistant#foundation planting#rounded#border planting#acidic soils tolerant#pollinator plant#black fruits#compact habit#heat intolerant#humidity intolerant#dense growth#poisonous if ingested#landscape plant sleuths course#border#groups#pollinator
 
Cultivars / Varieties:
'Compacta', 'Convexa', 'Drops of gold', 'Geisha', 'Golden Gem', 'Green Luster', 'Helleri', 'Hetzii', 'Hoogendorn', 'Latifolia', 'Sky Pencil', 'Sky Pointer', 'Snowflake', 'Soft Touch', 'Stokes', 'Twiggy'
Tags:
#cultivars#small tree#full sun tolerant#small spaces#drought tolerant#white flowers#shrub#slow growing#broadleaf evergreen#winter interest#cottage garden#mass planting#hedges#poisonous fruits#deer resistant#foundation planting#rounded#border planting#acidic soils tolerant#pollinator plant#black fruits#compact habit#heat intolerant#humidity intolerant#dense growth#poisonous if ingested#landscape plant sleuths course#border#groups#pollinator
  • Attributes:
    Genus:
    Ilex
    Species:
    crenata
    Family:
    Aquifoliaceae
    Life Cycle:
    Woody
    Recommended Propagation Strategy:
    Seed
    Stem Cutting
    Country Or Region Of Origin:
    East Nepal to Temperate East Asia, Japan and Korea
    Distribution:
    Native; Assam, China North-Central, China South-Central, China Southeast, East Himalaya, Japan, Korea, Myanmar, Nepal, Taiwan, Tibet, and Vietnam. Introduced: United States--Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Louisiana, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Washington.
    Fire Risk Rating:
    medium flammability
    Wildlife Value:
    The small fragrant flowers attract bees. Members of the genus Ilex support the following specialized bee: Colletes banksi.
    Play Value:
    Attracts Pollinators
    Wildlife Food Source
    Particularly Resistant To (Insects/Diseases/Other Problems):
    Mildly resistant to damage by deer.
    Edibility:
    Use caution. Human ingestion of berries can cause minor toxic reaction.
    Dimensions:
    Height: 5 ft. 0 in. - 10 ft. 0 in.
    Width: 5 ft. 0 in. - 8 ft. 0 in.
  • Whole Plant Traits:
    Plant Type:
    Shrub
    Tree
    Woody Plant Leaf Characteristics:
    Broadleaf Evergreen
    Habit/Form:
    Dense
    Multi-stemmed
    Rounded
    Spreading
    Growth Rate:
    Slow
    Maintenance:
    Medium
    Texture:
    Fine
  • 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
    Loam (Silt)
    Sand
    Soil pH:
    Acid (<6.0)
    Neutral (6.0-8.0)
    Soil Drainage:
    Good Drainage
    Moist
    Occasionally Wet
    Available Space To Plant:
    3 feet-6 feet
    6-feet-12 feet
    NC Region:
    Coastal
    Mountains
    Piedmont
    USDA Plant Hardiness Zone:
    5a, 5b, 6a, 6b, 7a, 7b, 8a, 8b
  • Fruit:
    Fruit Color:
    Black
    Fruit Value To Gardener:
    Showy
    Display/Harvest Time:
    Fall
    Winter
    Fruit Type:
    Drupe
    Fruit Length:
    < 1 inch
    Fruit Width:
    < 1 inch
    Fruit Description:
    The fruit is a black, globose, berrylike drupe on pollinated female plants. They ripen in early fall and will persist into spring. They measure 1/4 to 1/3 inch in diameter. The fruits are hidden below the foliage.
  • Flowers:
    Flower Color:
    Green
    White
    Flower Inflorescence:
    Cyme
    Flower Value To Gardener:
    Fragrant
    Flower Bloom Time:
    Spring
    Flower Petals:
    4-5 petals/rays
    Flower Size:
    < 1 inch
    Flower Description:
    The flowers are small and measure 1/3 to 1/2 inch in diameter. They are dull, greenish-white, fragrant flowers in spring that form in clusters of 1 to 3. They are 4-petaled with a pale green center. The pistillate cyme appears in the leaf axils of the current season's growth. The staminate solitary bloom appears in the leaf axils of the current season's growth. Blooming occurs from May to June.
  • Leaves:
    Woody Plant Leaf Characteristics:
    Broadleaf Evergreen
    Leaf Color:
    Green
    Leaf Feel:
    Glossy
    Leaf Value To Gardener:
    Good Cut
    Long-lasting
    Leaf Type:
    Simple
    Leaf Arrangement:
    Alternate
    Leaf Shape:
    Elliptical
    Obovate
    Leaf Margin:
    Crenate
    Hairs Present:
    No
    Leaf Length:
    < 1 inch
    Leaf Width:
    < 1 inch
    Leaf Description:
    Leaves are alternate, simple, and elliptic or obovate. They are shiny and dark green on the upper surface and dull light green beneath. The leaves are small and measure 0.5 to 1.25 inches long and are crowded on stems. The underside of the leaves also has dotted blackish pellucid glands. Leaves are good in flower arrangements. Their dark green color provides winter interest.
  • Bark:
    Bark Color:
    Green
    Light Brown
    Light Gray
    Surface/Attachment:
    Smooth
    Bark Description:
    The bark is light greenish brown to gray and smooth.
  • Stem:
    Stem Color:
    Gold/Yellow
    Green
    Stem Is Aromatic:
    No
    Stem Surface:
    Hairy (pubescent)
    Stem Description:
    The stems are green on current season growth, but in 2 to 3 years, the stems turn grayish-green to grayish-brown. The young stems are densely pubescent. At maturity, the older stems are denser and more rigid. The buds are small.
  • Landscape:
    Landscape Location:
    Woodland
    Landscape Theme:
    Cottage Garden
    Drought Tolerant Garden
    Pollinator Garden
    Winter Garden
    Design Feature:
    Border
    Foundation Planting
    Hedge
    Mass Planting
    Small groups
    Small Tree
    Attracts:
    Bees
    Pollinators
    Specialized Bees
    Resistance To Challenges:
    Deer
    Diseases
    Drought
    Insect Pests
    Pollution
    Problems:
    Poisonous to Humans
  • Poisonous to Humans:
    Poison Severity:
    Low
    Poison Symptoms:
    Minor toxicity. Ingestion may cause vomiting, diarrhea, or other illness in humans.
    Poison Toxic Principle:
    Saponins
    Causes Contact Dermatitis:
    No
    Poison Part:
    Fruits