About the Holly Tree


American holly (Ilex opaca) is one of the first trees that the pilgrims saw and reminded them of species found in their native lands. Holly has a long association with Christmas in both America and overseas, and American holly has great value as a landscaping tree. American holly is not difficult to identify, as it is an evergreen species with distinct foliage. The tree grows wild across portions of the eastern United States and multiple hybrids of it exist for landscaping needs.


The typical American holly is in the 40-to-50-foot-high range, with a trunk 1 or 2 feet wide. The leaves are shiny, green, stiff, leathery and thick. The elliptical leaves have sharp spines and are as long as 3.5 inches. The fruit is a red drupe but looks like a berry, with a short stalk, a bright red color and four brownish seeds inside. Birds and other wildlife eat the fruit, which can stay on the tree through the winter. Holly has light-gray bark and the tree possesses a pyramidal shape.


The range of American holly extends from coastal Massachusetts down along the shores of the Atlantic through Delaware, with the tree existing in scattered areas throughout this area. Holly grows in inland Pennsylvania and from there southward into central Florida. The tree is found in the rest of the Deep South, as far west as eastern Texas and as far north as states like Arkansas, Missouri, Kentucky and West Virginia. Holly grows on floodplains and in mixed hardwood forests with species such as pines, post oak, beech, dogwood and red oak.

Growing Conditions

When selecting a suitable location for an American holly, try to choose one that features partial shade to mostly sunny conditions. Hollies do best in acidic ground that does not have problems with standing water. The tree withstands the effects of drought. Keep in mind that hollies are dioecious--there are female and male holly trees, with only the females bearing fruit. The female requires a male to be close by in order for pollination to happen, with one male holly tree able to pollinate several females.


The holly trees are relatively simple to transplant and will typically take to their new environs because of the tree's extensive root system, which includes a taproot. You should always transplant holly trees when they are dormant, which occurs from November into March. The larger hollies, according to the National Forest Service website, do best when balled with burlap, but the smaller specimens just need their roots kept damp before you put them back into the ground.


The seeds of American holly require from 16 months to three years to germinate. American holly's wood is such a whitish shade that it works best as inlays for cabinets and you can stain it other colors, including black. American holly cultivars include the Howard, which features dark green foliage and many fruits. The Clarendon is a dwarf holly that is just 8 feet high, with red-orange berries.

Keywords: American holly, holly tree transplanting, Ilex opaca

About this Author

John has written thousands of articles for Demand Studios, Associated Content and The Greyhound Review. A Connecticut native, John has written extensively about sports, fishing, and nature.