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Ilex opaca

Common Name(s):

Phonetic Spelling
EE-leks oh-PAY-kah
This plant has low severity poison characteristics.
See below
Description

American Holly is an evergreen tree that may grow 40 to 60 feet tall. The tree has alternate leaves with spiny toothed and sometimes smooth margins. The bark is gray-white in color and may be splotched or warty. Small, dull green-white, solitary flowers mature in late spring. Female specimens produce a bright red or orange fruit which matures in the fall and persists into the winter.

The American Holly is easily grown in average, consistently moist, acidic, well-drained soils in full sun to part shade. The leaves are typically yellow in alkaline soils and have a dusty, dirty look to them. It will tolerate a broad range of soil conditions and is pollution tolerant, but will not tolerate flooding or soils saturated with moisture. For optimum growth avoid poorly drained soils. Its best growth in the wild usually occurs in rich bottomlands and swamp margins. It will not do well in locations not protected from cold winter winds and winter sun. Part afternoon shade is best in hot summer climates. Being situated in too much shade will cause the plant foliage to lose density. Uses for this large tree that may have limbs all the way to the ground include privacy screens and specimen plantings. It doesn’t make a good plant for small yards, but can be a beautiful plant when given space to grow.

Fire Risk: This plant has a high flammability rating and should not be planted within the defensible space of your home. Select plants with a low flammability rating for the sites nearest your home. 

Quick ID Hints:

  • Dull, dark green leaves are both entire and spiny.
  • Spines are evenly spaced and are long and sharp.
  • Leaves usually have a dull, dirty look.
Cultivars / Varieties:
  • 'Crooneburg'
    more upright, narrower
  • 'Fallow'
  • 'Greenleaf'
  • 'Howard'
    has few spines
  • 'Kleimi'
  • 'William Hawkins'
Tags:
#bees#butterflies#evergreen#fruit#birds#poisonous#wildlife plant#native tree#honey bees#nectar plant#salt tolerant#cover plant#winter interest#host plant#berries#playground#host#hedges#winter cover#specialized bees#food source#cpp#fire#high flammability#NC native#children's garden#foundation planting#pollinator plant#Braham Arboretum#fantz#larval host plant#food source winter#cover#butterfly
 
Cultivars / Varieties:
  • 'Crooneburg'
    more upright, narrower
  • 'Fallow'
  • 'Greenleaf'
  • 'Howard'
    has few spines
  • 'Kleimi'
  • 'William Hawkins'
Tags:
#bees#butterflies#evergreen#fruit#birds#poisonous#wildlife plant#native tree#honey bees#nectar plant#salt tolerant#cover plant#winter interest#host plant#berries#playground#host#hedges#winter cover#specialized bees#food source#cpp#fire#high flammability#NC native#children's garden#foundation planting#pollinator plant#Braham Arboretum#fantz#larval host plant#food source winter#cover#butterfly
  • Attributes:
    Genus:
    Ilex
    Species:
    opaca
    Family:
    Aquifoliaceae
    Life Cycle:
    Woody
    Country Or Region Of Origin:
    Central & Eastern U.S.A
    Distribution:
    PA and MA south through FL, west to TX up through Midwest states
    Fire Risk Rating:
    high flammability
    Wildlife Value:
    It is a host plant for the Henry's Elfin butterfly and provides nectar for adult butterflies and other insects. Its fruits are eaten by songbirds, wild turkeys, quail, white-tailed deer, squirrels and other small mammals. Honeybees are attracted to its tiny white flowers. This tree provides cover during the winter.
    Play Value:
    Wildlife Food Source
    Particularly Resistant To (Insects/Diseases/Other Problems):
    Moderately salt tolerant, highly deer resistant.
    Dimensions:
    Height: 40 ft. 0 in. - 60 ft. 0 in.
    Width: 10 ft. 0 in. - 20 ft. 0 in.
  • Whole Plant Traits:
    Plant Type:
    Native Plant
    Poisonous
    Tree
    Leaf Characteristics:
    Broadleaf Evergreen
    Habit/Form:
    Open
    Pyramidal
    Growth Rate:
    Slow
    Maintenance:
    Low
    Texture:
    Medium
    Appendage:
    Spines
  • Cultural Conditions:
    Light:
    Deep shade (Less than 2 hours to no direct sunlight)
    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)
    Shallow Rocky
    Soil pH:
    Acid (<6.0)
    Soil Drainage:
    Good Drainage
    Moist
    Occasionally Dry
    Occasionally Wet
    Available Space To Plant:
    3 feet-6 feet
    NC Region:
    Coastal
    Mountains
    Piedmont
    Usda Plant Hardiness Zone:
    5a, 5b, 6a, 6b, 7a, 7b, 8a, 8b, 9a, 9b
  • Fruit:
    Fruit Color:
    Orange
    Red/Burgundy
    Fruit Value To Gardener:
    Fragrant
    Showy
    Display/Harvest Time:
    Winter
    Fruit Type:
    Berry
    Fruit Length:
    < 1 inch
    Fruit Width:
    < 1 inch
    Fruit Description:
    Bright red or orange berry-like drupe. Persist on tree through winter. Both sexes must be present to produce fruit.
  • Flowers:
    Flower Color:
    Gold/Yellow
    Green
    White
    Flower Inflorescence:
    Cyme
    Insignificant
    Flower Value To Gardener:
    Fragrant
    Showy
    Flower Bloom Time:
    Spring
    Summer
    Flower Size:
    1-3 inches
    Flower Description:
    The American Holly is dioecious (male and female flowers are on separate trees). It has greenish-white flowers bloom May-June (male flowers in 3-12 flowered clusters and female flowers solitary or in 2's or 3's). Infloreescence is staminate a cyme, and pistillate single.
  • Leaves:
    Leaf Characteristics:
    Broadleaf Evergreen
    Leaf Color:
    Green
    Leaf Feel:
    Prickly
    Leaf Value To Gardener:
    Showy
    Deciduous Leaf Fall Color:
    Brown/Copper
    Gold/Yellow
    Leaf Type:
    Simple
    Leaf Arrangement:
    Alternate
    Leaf Shape:
    Elliptical
    Oblong
    Leaf Margin:
    Entire
    Hairs Present:
    No
    Leaf Length:
    1-3 inches
    Leaf Width:
    1-3 inches
    Leaf Description:
    Its thick, leathery, alternate, simple, deep green leaves (2-4" long) have spiny marginal teeth. Leaves are alternate, simple, oblong to elliptic, coriaceous, and have an apical spine.
  • Bark:
    Bark Color:
    Light Gray
    White
    Bark Description:
    Light gray-white and smooth bark, may be splotched or warty.
  • Stem:
    Stem Color:
    Gray/Silver
    Stem Is Aromatic:
    No
    Stem Description:
    Stems are a greenish-gray color.
  • Landscape:
    Landscape Theme:
    Children's Garden
    Design Feature:
    Barrier
    Hedge
    Screen/Privacy
    Specimen
    Attracts:
    Butterflies
    Pollinators
    Songbirds
    Specialized Bees
    Resistance To Challenges:
    Deer
    Salt
    Problems:
    Frequent Disease Problems
    Poisonous to Humans
  • Poisonous to Humans:
    Poison Severity:
    Low
    Poison Symptoms:
    Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea.
    Poison Toxic Principle:
    Illicin, possibly saponic glycosides, and triterpenoids.
    Causes Contact Dermatitis:
    No
    Poison Part:
    Fruits