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American HollyIlex opaca

  • Northern Red Oak - Quercus rubra

Holly sprigs are widely known as the everlasting symbol of Christmas cheer. But holly as a tree offers much more. It lends unique beauty to the landscape all year long, provides cover and food for birds, and has been developed into more than 1,000 cultivars by enthusiastic holly buffs.

American holly has captivated plant lovers since the days of the Pilgrims. It is such an appealing tree that Delaware adopted it as the state’s official tree.

Hardiness Zones

The american holly can be expected to grow in Hardiness Zones 5–9. View Map

Tree Type

This tree is considered both an evergreen tree and an ornamental tree. It keeps its foliage year-round and adds visual interest and beauty to landscaping.

Mature Size

The American holly grows to a height of 40–50' and a spread of 18–40' at maturity.

Growth Speed Slow to Medium Growth Rate

This tree grows at a slow to medium rate, with height increases of anywhere from less than 12" to 24" per year.

Sun Preference

Full sun and partial shade are best for this tree, meaning it prefers a minimum of 4 hours of direct, unfiltered sunlight each day.

Soil Preference

The American holly grows well in acidic, loamy, moist, rich, sandy, well-drained and clay soils. While it prefers normal moisture, the tree has some flood tolerance and drought resistance.


This tree:
  • Features leathery leaves that are 2–4" long, maintain their green color year-round, and are sharply tipped on the margins.
  • Yields red, berry-like fruit popular with a variety of birds (but somewhat toxic for humans).
  • Produces inconspicuous greenish or cream flowers with a notably pleasant aroma.
  • Grows in a pyramidal shape.
  • Can be pruned as an attractive hedge.
  • Needs shelter from the drying effects of the wind in the northern part of its planting range.
  • Should be planted in multiples of 4 or more to allow for cross-pollination to produce the red berries.

Wildlife Value

The foliage of the American holly provides cover for songbirds and mammals, and after frost settles in, the fruit becomes a choice food for grouse, quail, wild turkeys and other songbirds. The flowers are also attractive to bees.


The American holly tree has been popular since the beginning of American history, having served the Native Americans with wood for many different applications and berries that were used for buttons and barter. It was said to be a favorite of George Washington, and more than a dozen hollies he planted are still evident today. It is also widely known as the basic raw material for Christmas wreaths. The first scientific observation of the American Holly tree was recorded in 1744.