How to Identify the Difference Between Male & Female Holly Bushes


Holly, one of the traditional evergreens of the holidays, is a dioecious plant, which means holly plants are either male or female, and only the females have berries. In order to successfully produce seeds to propagate more plants, both sexes must grow in proximity to each other. Look for clues to the sex of the plant to guarantee berries on your holly bush.

Step 1

Look at the leaves on the plant. Female holly tends to grow more leaves lower on the plant than male shrubs of the same variety and age. Leaves on male plants often exhibit fewer points.

Step 2

Observe the trees when they bloom in the spring. Male blooms contain four insignificant petals with obvious extended pollen-laden anthers. Male holly flower centers are vacant.

Step 3

Examine the fragrant white or pinkish flowers. Female plant flowers display four or five small petals. Insignificant sepals that hold no pollen stand around a distended four-chambered carpel that houses the plant's ovary.

Step 4

Look for berries beginning in late summer on female plants. Most female plants produce red berries but some produce yellow or white berries; all are very hard and soften as the seeds ripen through the fall and into winter.

Step 5

Ask the nursery operator when in doubt. There are dozens of varieties of holly; some respond to lack of presence of the opposite sex by developing complete flowers so they can self-pollinate and some have rounded, not the familiar spiny leaves.

Tips and Warnings

  • Holly berries are mildly toxic to humans but favorite winter fare for birds. Holly leaves are sharp. Always wear gloves when handling plants.

Things You'll Need

  • Garden gloves


  • The Flower Essence Society: Male and Female Flowers

Who Can Help

  • Lady Bird Johnson WWildflower Center: American Holly
  • Purdue University Extension: A Guide to Flowering Plants
  • National Gardening Association: Holly
Keywords: female holly, male holly, dioecious plant, identify sex of holly

About this Author

Chicago native Laura Reynolds has been writing for 40 years. She attended American University (D.C.), Northern Illinois University and University of Illinois Chicago and has a B.S. in communications (theater). Originally a secondary school communications and history teacher, she's written one book and edited several others. She has 30 years of experience as a local official, including service as a municipal judge.