American Holly

Basic Information
Tree ID: 
Genus and species: 
Hello, hello! My name is Ilex opaca, but my friends like to call me Lex. My species is dioecious – I identify as a lady. I am from the Southeastern United States, and am a huge fan of the moist soils that this region has to offer. I can be found along the East Coast from Massachusetts to Delaware, though I like to vacation in sunny Florida and have gone as far West as Eastern Texas. I am better known as American Holly for the vibrant red berries I produce in the fall and winter time, and I’m pretty famous for it (if I do say so myself) – the word "holly" is mentioned in over a thousand Christmas songs (according to including familiar favorites like “Holly Jolly Christmas” and the tradition carol “Deck the Halls”. However, as we’ll see, I’ve been involved in several other spiritual and medicinal traditions throughout history.
Fawzan Khan, Nabiha Khan, and Taylor McClure
Collected Data
Tree shape: 
Wide pyramidal
Date of tree entry: 
7.74 m
Diameter at breast height: 
0.44 m

The bark of the American Holly is not very thick and is smooth in texture with a color that ranges from gray to grayish brown.
Twigs & branches
The branches of the American Holly form a dense network or short, crooked crossing branches, and the colors of the branches are light green with smooth bark. Similarly, the twigs are smooth in texture and range in color from gray to brown, with maturing shoots often retaining a tan to green-ish color.
The leaves are roughly elliptical in shape, with the tips of the leaves terminating in a sharp point. The upper and lower portions of the leave vary in color with the upper having a shinier look, and the lower portions appearing more dull in color; the leaves range from 2 to 4 inches in length. This dense foliage is vital in providing cover and space for nesting for several species of songbirds.
Reproductive Structures
Hollies are dioecious, meaning their male and female flowers are on separate plants and cultivar to pollinate and produce flowers, and seeds consequently. The male (staminate) and female (pistallate) have 4 to 6 petals. The male flowers produces pollen that is transferred to the female flower, and this pollination is accomplished by insects and other pollinators. Male flowers have four stamens that produce pollen and female flowers have pistil which contain the ovary, the location for seed pollination.
Pollination is carried out by insects, but mostly bees. The fruits produced on hollies are four-seeded drupes, or berries that are shiny red or orange.
  • The berries bloom during the winter months.
  • During the spring.
Natural range of distribution: 
Ilex opaca is native to the southeastern United States, and, thus, thrives in humid environments. It can survive in a range of soils including dry sand but grows best in the moist, slightly acidic soils with good drainage. Its natural range includes Massachusetts, moves down along the East coast to Delaware, and extends south through Florida and as far west as eastern Texas and southeastern Missouri.
Origin, history, and uses: 
Holly itself has been used in several spiritual contexts throughout history. The ancient Romans first decorated with holly to celebrate the god of agriculture and harvest, Saturn. The Druids of Britain and France also decorated their homes with holly as a symbol of the winter solstice, and, more generally, to offer protection and bring about good luck. 
To early Christians, holly took on yet another spiritual meaning: it was used decoratively during Christmastime. It symbolized the crucifixion of Christ, with the red holly resembling drops of Christ’s blood and the leaves symbolizing the crown of thorns worn by Christ. Today, holly is still widely used in Christmas tradition – those who celebrate the holiday display holly branches and wreaths as decoration. 
When it comes to the American Holly specifically, Native Americans had a range of uses for the tree and its parts. They extracted dye from the brightly colored berries in addition to collecting them for use as decorative buttons and trade items. Eye medicines and dermatological aids were derived from the American Holly, and the holly berries were chewed to aid in digestion. To learn more about how the American Holly was used medicinally, check out this source:….
Today, the American Holly is used aesthetically in landscaping – it might be used for shade and is often planted along streets or in courtyards. The light-colored bark of the tree is also sometimes used to make furniture. 
The American Holly has served many purposes throughout history, and remains a relevant symbol in modern Christian traditions. 
The American Holly is an evergreen tree. However, we still see seasonal changes in flowering. It begins flowering between May and June, starts producing fruit in October, and continues to do so throughout the winter.
Media and Arts

As we’ve discussed above, holly is strongly associated with Christmas. The Nutcracker ballet is also a widely known Christmas tradition. Taylor, one of our surveyors, trained in classical ballet for most of her life and has performed The Nutcracker several times. She will be teaching members of the class a section from Waltz of the Snowflakes as a symbol of the American Holly’s connection to Christmas, and the fact that holly berries grow during the winter months!