American Holly

Basic Information
Tree ID: 
Genus and species: 
Hi! My name is Holly and I am an American. I am a hard-core dicot with my roots in eastern and south-central United States, from coastal Massachusetts south to central Florida, and west to southeastern Missouri and eastern Texas. I'm trying to em-bark on the next stage of my life, and the first step is branching out with my relationships. Looking for a male Ilex opaca who wood want to go with the phloem, get trunk with me on weekends, and pollinate my flowers every night ;-) This may sound sappy but I promise my love will be evergreen. Look out for me on Tinder!!!
Jonathan Rutter and Sierra Conine
Collected Data
Tree shape: 
Wide Pyramidal
Date of tree entry: 
6.50 m
Diameter at breast height: 
0.11 m

The bark of the Holly is thin, smooth and greyish-brown in color. Older trees have trunks that are more warty and darker in color.
Twigs & branches
Branch bark is light green and relatively smooth. Twigs are gray or brown and smooth, while young shoots are light green to tan and either glabrous or hairy. Evergreen alternate leaves occur along the twigs and young shoots.
The leaf blades are 2-4" long and ¾-2" across; they are broadly elliptic or ovate and shallowly lobed (pinnatifid). The lobes and tips of the leaf blades terminate in sharp spiny teeth. The upper blade surface is yellowish green or green and somewhat shiny, while the lower surface is more pale and dull; both sides of the blade are hairless. The texture of the leaf blades is stiff and leathery. Scientists have actually looked into why these leaves are prickly in the American Holly's cousin--the European Holly. Interestingly, they that leaves with sharper ends showed less DNA methylation. This change in methylation is likely due to environmental pressures from grazing animals, how cool! Check out this link if you want to read more on this adaptive process:
Reproductive Structures
Hollies are dioecious and therefore male (staminate) and female (pistillate) flowers exist. These structures are similar in appearance, with four to six small white petals, and are produced on separate plants. Cross-pollination between a male tree and a female tree leads to fruit production on the female tree. Pollination is carried out mainly by insects such as wasps, bees, yellowjackets and moths. Fertile female flowers are replaced by drupes (berries) that become mature during the fall.
Fruit is bright red, sometimes yellow or orange, and spherical in shape. The fruit matures around October but can be kept on the tree until spring. The berry-like fruit is around 1/3 inch in diameter and is technically a four-seeded drupe. On average, one pound of berries has around 28,000 seeds. These berries, though beautiful, can be mildly toxic to humans and other animals if ingested. The berries contain a caffeinelike alkaloid, and though not likely to be fatal when eaten, may cause irritation.
Natural range of distribution: 
The American holly is native to the eastern United States, east from Texas to Florida and north until Illinois and Massachusetts. It can tolerate both shady and sunny conditions and wild trees are often found in rich bottomlands and swamp margins. While best suited to drained, sandy soils, it is not unusual to find it in less ideal conditions. Occasionally, for example, the American holly grows on coastal sand dunes.
Origin, history, and uses: 

The story of the American holly begins with the English holly. For centuries, the tree’s beautiful evergreen foliage was sent as goodwill tokens by the Romans. Druids believed the plant held sacred woodland spirits within its branches. (In fact, this is widely believed to be how the holly got its name - it sounds like holy.) Christians incorporated them into Christmas celebrations as they still do today.

The Pilgrims could have never cultivated the English holly in the New World, but luckily for them, they found a very similar tree when they crossed to America - the American holly. For 200 years, Americans cut the branches of wild trees to bring home for holiday decorations. By the 1930, thanks to so much decking of halls with boughs of holly, the tree was under threat.

Since then, the holly has recovered to a fair extent. Trees are now grown commercially for Christmas, and some holly enthusiasts have amassed enormous collections. And in the 1940s, one group of these enthusiasts made a special effort to promote the American holly as a beautiful landscaping tree.

Today, the American holly remains one of the most iconic trees of the eastern United States landscape.

The American holly is evergreen, yet still undergoes seasonal changes. It begins flowering between April and June, and its fruits begin to ripen from September to December. Ripe fruits remain on the tree throughout the winter, giving the holly its characteristic Christmas look.
Media and Arts