American Holly

Basic Information
Tree ID: 
Genus and species: 
Tucked away a few steps from Hillhouse Ave this Ilex opaca is a pillar of Christmas time cheer amid a small group of deciduous and evergreen trees. American holly are unique in their vast range; they are native from southern Massachusetts to central Florida, and can be found as far west as eastern Texas. American holly are evergreen trees with small, white flowers and red berries. The berries are an important source of food for birds, and they are reputedly poisionous to humans.
Kevin Boehm and Claire Chang
Collected Data
Tree shape: 
Date of tree entry: 
8.74 m
Diameter at breast height: 
0.55 m

Holly trees have small protrusions of wood within their bark giving it a knotted look. The coloration of the surrounding bark is light, even grey with tinges of crimson. However, this coloration often is covered by a thin lichen that appears as curved black lines. The bark is quite thin and easily removed. After fermentation, the bark can be used as a bug repellent.
Twigs & branches
Most of the leaves extend from the central stem of the branch. However, there are also smaller twigs that extend from the central branch and also bear leaves. The leaves appear alone rather than in bunches or groups. The arrangement of the leaves is alternate.
The leaves are oval in shape, and pointed spines extend from the edges. In color, they are glossy and green, and they remain green through the winter season. Their covering gives them a smooth, waxy feel on touch. Some cultures brew the leaves into a tea, but certain varieties cause gastrointestinal discomfort.
Reproductive Structures
Holly trees are dioecious, meaning they have male and female flowers. Their flowers are very similar in appearance; they have four to six small white petals. However, male flowers appear in clusters, where as female flowers appear singlularly along the branches. In the tree's southern range, flowering starts in April. In the northern range, flowering starts closer to June. Male trees pollinate female trees. Bees, moths, yellow-jackets, and other insects perform pollination.
The holly tree's "berries" are really four seeded drupes. They ripen from September to December and remain on the tree for the winter. They are 6-12 mm in diameter and are usually red in color.
  • Summer foliage
  • Summer
  • Winter
Natural range of distribution: 
Holly originated in the maritime forests of Massachussets. It can be found as far north as northern New Jersey and southern Connecticut, and its range extends down to Florida. Holly's range also extends inland as far as eastern Texas. Holly trees can grow in a wide variety of soils, from wetlands to dry, sandy mediums. They can grow well even in shady conditions, and often occupy the understory of forests.
Origin, history, and uses: 

Holly is an iconic holiday decoration; its branches are used to decorate homes and churches. Holly is often commonly used for ornamental plantings. Its wood is close grained and hard, but not very strong. It is used for engraving blocks, cabinet inlays, handles, and other specialty items. It is a very light color, but it can be dyed and used in place of ebony. 

The American holly tree is an evergreen. It flowers in late spring, and its red berries persist throughout the winter. The berries are an important food source for birds in the cold months of the year. They appear in clusters along the stems of the tree.