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Prunus ilicifolia (Hollyleaf cherry)
Reveal, James L.

Prunus ilicifolia

Prunus ilicifolia (Nutt. ex Hook. & Arn.) D. Dietr.

Hollyleaf Cherry

Rosaceae (Rose Family)


USDA Symbol: pril

USDA Native Status: L48 (N)

Small evergreen tree with short trunk, dense crown of stout, spreading branches, spiny-toothed leaves, and red cherries; hairless throughout; often a shrub. Hollyleaf Cherry is a dense, evergreen shrub or small tree with dark-green, holly-like leaves; white flower spikes; and red or dark-purple to black, cherry fruits.

Hollyleaf Cherry has been planted as an ornamental and a hedge plant from the time of the Spanish settlement in California. Although sweetish and edible, the cherries are mostly stone and are consumed only by wildlife. Native Americans used to crack the dried fruit and prepare meal from the ground seeds, after leaching them of poisons. The common and scientific names both refer to the hollylike leaves, which are used as Christmas decorations.


From the Image Gallery

20 photo(s) available in the Image Gallery

Plant Characteristics

Duration: Perennial
Habit: Shrub
Leaf Retention: Evergreen
Fruit Type: Drupe
Size Notes: Up to about 50 feet tall, often much shorter.

Bloom Information

Bloom Color: White
Bloom Time: Feb , Mar , Apr , May


Native Distribution: Coast Ranges from Napa Co., s. to s. CA
Native Habitat: Dry slopes below 5000 ft.

Growing Conditions

Light Requirement: Sun
Soil Moisture: Dry
Soil Description: Dry, rocky soils.


Use Wildlife: Birds and other wildlife eat the fruit.
Warning: The seeds of all Prunus species, found inside the fruits, contain poisonous substances and should never be eaten. 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

Value to Beneficial Insects

Special Value to Native Bees

This information was provided by the Pollinator Program at The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation.


Description: In addition to seed, Prunus species may be rooted from dormant hardwood, softwood, semi-hardwood, or root cuttings. Semi-hardwood and softwood cuttings taken in summer root easiest.
Seed Collection: Collect fruit when it is filled out, firm, and its ripe color. Clean seeds from pulp and briefly air dry. (Seeds to be sown immediately in fall do not need drying.) Storage viability is maintained at 31-41 degrees.
Seed Treatment: Fresh seeds require no treatment; stored seeds benefit from 1-3 months stratification.
Commercially Avail: yes

Find Seed or Plants

View propagation protocol from Native Plants Network.


Bibref 995 - Native Landscaping from El Paso to L.A. (2000) Wasowski, S. and A. Wasowski

Search More Titles in Bibliography

Web Reference

Webref 30 - Calflora (2018) Calflora
Webref 3 - Flora of North America (2014) Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis, MO & Harvard University Herbaria, Cambridge, MA.
Webref 23 - Southwest Environmental Information Network (2009) SEINet - Arizona Chapter

From the Archive

Wildflower Newsletter 1984 VOL. 1, NO.4 - Lady Bird Heartened by Progress, Horticultural Society Annual Meeting Held, Dire...

Additional resources

USDA: Find Prunus ilicifolia in USDA Plants
FNA: Find Prunus ilicifolia in the Flora of North America (if available)
Google: Search Google for Prunus ilicifolia


Record Modified: 2023-05-10
Research By: TWC Staff

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