Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center - The University of Texas at Austin information

 Native Plant Database

Ilex opaca

American holly, White holly, Prickly holly, Evergreen holly, Christmas holly, Yule holly

Aquifoliaceae (Holly Family)

Ilex opaca (American holly)
Wasowski, Sally and Andy
The height of American holly or Christmas holly ranges from 25 ft. to as tall as 60 ft. in the warmer parts of its range. The stout, stiff branches of this pyramidal evergreen bear dark green, non-glossy, spine-tipped leaves. New growth finally pushes off the old leaves in spring. Bright red berries occur on the female plants. A shorter, multi-trunked form may grow in lower-light situations. The bark is a light gray color.

The evergreen fruiting branches from wild and planted trees are popular Christmas decorations. Many improved varieties are grown for ornament, shade, and hedges. You must have both a male and female plant to have berries, or at least have the opposite sex growing wild somewhere nearby. The male must be the same holly species as the female and bloom at the same time. This is a very slow-growing tree. The whitish, fine-textured wood is especially suited for inlays in cabinetwork, handles, carvings, and rulers, and can be dyed various shades, even black. Many kinds of songbirds, gamebirds, and mammals eat the bitter berries of this and other hollies, but the fruits are poisonous to humans.

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Plant Characteristics

Duration: Perennial
Habit: Tree
Leaf Retention: Evergreen
Leaf Complexity: Simple
Leaf Pubescence: Glabrous
Leaf Texture: Smooth
Breeding System: Flowers Unisexual , Dioecious
Size Notes: In the westernmost portions of its range, height is normally from 15-25 feet, with 50-foot trees occasional. In moister regions, averages 40-50 feet, with occasional 75-100 foot trees.
Leaf: Green
Fruit: Red, sometimes orange or yellow 1/4 to 1/3 inch
Size Class: 12-36 ft. , 36-72 ft.

Bloom Information

Bloom Color: White , Green
Bloom Time: Mar , Apr , May , Jun
Bloom Notes: Tiny flowers


USA: AL , AR , CT , DE , FL , GA , IL , IN , KY , LA , ME , MD , MA , MS , MO , NJ , NY , NC , OH , OK , PA , RI , SC , TN , TX , VA , WV , DC
Native Distribution: VA to n. FL, w. to s.e. MO & e. TX; also coastal areas from MA to MD
Native Habitat: Shaded woods and stream and river banks. Uplands and lowlands. Primarily an understory tree.

Growing Conditions

Water Use: Medium
Light Requirement: Sun , Part Shade , Shade
Soil Moisture: Wet , Dry
Soil pH: Acidic (pH<6.8)
CaCO3 Tolerance: Low
Drought Tolerance: Low , Medium
Cold Tolerant: yes
Heat Tolerant: yes
Soil Description: Moist, well-drained, acidic soils. Acid-based, Sandy, Sandy Loam, Medium Loam. Not so good in clay.
Conditions Comments: For clay soils in areas of high humidity (like Houston), cultivar Savannah is recommended.


Use Ornamental: Long-living, Understory, Screens, Fruits ornamental, Attractive, Mass planting
Use Wildlife: Berries attract many bird and small mammal species. Also provides cover and nesting sites. Larval plant for Henrys Elfin butterfly.
Use Other: White wood used in furniture, woodworking, and other products.
Warning: All Ilex species may be somewhat toxic if ingested. Sensitivity to a toxin varies with a personís age, weight, physical condition, and individual susceptibility. Children are most vulnerable because of their curiosity and small size. Toxicity can vary in a plant according to season, the plantís different parts, and its stage of growth; and plants can absorb toxic substances, such as herbicides, pesticides, and pollutants from the water, air, and soil.
Attracts: Birds , Butterflies
Larval Host: Henrys Elfin butterfly.

Butterflies and Moths of North America (BAMONA)

Ilex opaca is a larval host and/or nectar source for:
(Microtia elva)

Larval Host
Learn more at BAMONA

Last Update: 2015-11-12