Ilex opaca

Tried and Trouble-free Recommended by 5 Professionals
Species Native to Missouri
Common Name: American holly
Type: Broadleaf evergreen
Family: Aquifoliaceae
Native Range: Eastern and central United States
Zone: 5 to 9
Height: 15.00 to 30.00 feet
Spread: 10.00 to 20.00 feet
Bloom Time: May
Bloom Description: Creamy white
Sun: Full sun to part shade
Water: Medium
Maintenance: Low
Flower: Insignificant
Leaf: Evergreen
Attracts: Birds
Fruit: Showy
Other: Winter Interest, Thorns
Tolerate: Deer, Clay Soil, Air Pollution


Easily grown in average, medium, well-drained soil in full sun to part shade. Best in locations protected from cold winter winds. Plants of this species are dioecious (separate male and female plants). For females to bear fruit, a male pollinator is needed. Plant, within 200' of each other, one male for every three females to insure that good pollination will take place.

Noteworthy Characteristics

Ilex opaca, commonly called American holly, is an upright, pyramidal, evergreen tree that slowly matures to 15-30' in cultivation, but may reach 50' tall in the wild. It is native to the eastern and central U. S., most frequently found in moist woods, forest bottomlands and swamp peripheries plus some coastal dunes (e.g., Cape Cod down the Atlantic Coast) from Massachusetts to West Virginia to Ohio to southeastern Missouri south to Texas and Florida. This species is easily identified because it is the only native U. S. holly with spiny green leaves and bright red berries. This is the Christmas holly whose berry-laden boughs are typically collected at Christmas time each year for ornamentation ("decking the halls" as it were). Thick, leathery, deep green leaves (2-4" long) have spiny marginal teeth. Species is dioecious (male and female flowers are on separate trees). Greenish-white flowers bloom May-June (male flowers in 3-12 flowered clusters and female flowers solitary or in 2s or 3s). Bright red or orange fruits (to 1/4- 1/2" diameter) ripen in fall on female trees, and persist on the tree through winter. Birds love the fruit.

Specific epithet means opaque or dull, in reference to the non-lustrous leaf surfaces of species plants (many of the cultivars have more lustrous foliage).


Potential insect problems include holly leaf miner, mites, whitefly and scale. Potential disease problems include leaf spot, leaf rot, tar spot and powdery mildew. Also susceptible to leaf drop, leaf scorch and chlorosis (soil pH too high).

Garden Uses

This small, evergreen tree is best as a specimen or in small groups. Foliage and red berries provide excellent color to the winter landscape, and cuttings of the same are popular additions to Christmas wreaths and other decorations.