FAMILY: Aquifoliaceae | GENUS: ILEX

  • Deciduous
  • Evergreen
  • Shrubs
  • Trees
  • Full Sun
  • Partial Shade
  • Regular Water
  • Poisonous/Toxic

Plant Details

Few plants are as dependable, versatile, and popular as hollies. More than 400 species and countless hybrids exist. Although a number of deciduous kinds have spectacular winter berries, Southerners generally prefer evergreen types that feature handsome foliage year-round and showy fruit as a bonus. In size, hollies range from foot-high mounds to trees 4050 ft. tall. Smaller, shrublike plants are useful as foundation plantings and low hedges. Large evergreen hollies make attractive tall screens and informal hedges, and they're also good in corner plantings or as single specimens in a spacious lawn. Small-leafed types can be sheared into formal hedges or used for topiary.

Nearly all holly plants are either male or female, and as a rule both sexes must be present for female plants to set fruit. The selections described here are female unless otherwise noted. A few set fruit without a pollenizer; these are noted too.

I. xaltaclerensis. ALTACLARA HOLLY. Evergreen shrub or tree. Zones US, MS, LS; USDA 6-8. Hybrid between I. aquifolium and a species from western Europe. Large, vigorous plant naturally reaches 60 ft. tall and 40 ft. wide, but it can be trained into a large shrub or small tree to 1520 ft. high, 1012 ft. wide. Adapts to most soils, tolerates wind.

'Camelliifolia'. Lustrous, nearly spineless, dark green leaves up to 5 in. long. Large berries are dark red.

'James G. Esson'. Dark green, undulating, spiny leaves are a bit smaller than those of 'Camelliifolia'. Glossy red berries.

'Wilsonii'. Spiny, glossy, bright green leaves up to 5 in. long. Heavy crop of bright red berries. Makes a nice espalier, screen, or formal clipped hedge. Not as cold hardy as other selections.

I. aquifolium. ENGLISH HOLLY. Evergreen shrub or tree. Zones US, MS; USDA 6-7. Native to Europe, this is the holly of song, legend, and Christmas wreaths. It's a slow-growing plant that can eventually reach 40 ft. tall and 25 ft. wide, though it is usually much smaller in the South. Leaves are 24 in. long, highly variable in color, shape, and spininess. Some selections bear fruit without pollination, but the berries so produced are usually small and drop quickly. Deer resistant.

English holly is arguably the most ornamental holly, but it's not easy to grow in most of the South. Dislikes high humidity coupled with high temperatures; does not do well with poor drainage, extreme cold, dry winter winds. I. 'Nellie R. Stevens' is a better choice for achieving a similar effect. Selections of English holly include the following.

'Argentea Marginata'. Dark green leaves with whitish margins.

'Aurea Marginata'. Dark green leaves edged in bright yellow.

'Balkans'. Upright grower with smooth, dark green leaves; most cold hardy of the English hollies. Both male and female forms are available.

'Brilliant' (I. 'Brilliant'). Hybrid resulting from a cross with a Chinese species. Compact, dense, pyramidal growth to 1020 ft. tall and wide. Dependably sets abundant fruit without a pollenizer.

'Ciliata Major'. Vigorous female form with bronzy green, flat leaves on which the spines point toward the tip.

'Gold Coast'. Grows slowly to just 46 ft. tall and wide. Dark green leaves are heavily edged in bright golden yellow. Male form; produces no berries.

'San Gabriel'. Female form with glossy, spiny leaves. Bright red fruit is produced without a pollenizer.

'Silver Queen'. Vigorous and upright, to 1224 ft. tall and 1012 ft. wide, with dark green leaves edged in white. New growth tinged pink. No fruit.

'Sparkler'. Strong, upright growth to about 12 ft. tall, 8 ft. wide. Heavy crop of glistening red berries at an early age.

'Teufel's Zero' ('Zero'). Upright grower with long, slender, weeping branches. Dark red berries ripen early. Cold hardy.

I. xaquipernyi. Evergreen shrub or tree. Zones US, MS, LS; USDA 6-8. Hybrid between I. aquifolium and I. pernyi. Dense, conical plant to 20 ft. tall (or taller), 12 ft. wide. Deep green, spiny leaves to 112 in. long; red berries. Deer resistant.

'Aquipern'. Male form used as a pollenizer.

'Carolina Sentinel'. Narrow, columnar form. Very deep green leaves; bright red berries. A good choice for screening in narrow spaces.

'Patricia Varner'. Broad, upright form with dark green foliage and heavy crops of large berries. Fast grower.

'San Jose'. Dense, pyramidal form; reaches 15 ft. tall, 10 ft. wide. Glossy leaves and plenty of bright red berries. Sets fruit without a pollenizer.

I. xattenuata. Evergreen tree. Zones US, MS, LS, CS; USDA 6-9. Hybrid between I. opaca and I. cassine. To 1230 ft. tall and about half as wide, with dense foliage and a conical or pyramidal habit. Light green leaves are sparsely toothed, to 3 in. long. Dark red berries. Fast growing; a popular choice for screening. Selections include these four:

'East Palatka'. Discovered near East Palatka, Florida, in 1927. Abundant bright red berries. More open and less hardy than 'Foster #2'. Young leaves have few spines; mature leaves are often spineless.

'Foster #2'. The most popular and ornamental of several hybrids known by the name Foster holly. Narrow, conical form. Small, narrow leaves with short spines. Plentiful red berries.

'Hume #2'. Glossy, rounded, nearly spineless leaves. Shiny red berries. Can reach 35 ft. tall.

'Savannah'. Very popular selection prized for fast growth and tremendous crops of bright red berries. Narrow, upright growth to 35 ft. tall and 8 ft. wide. Leaves have short spines and look more like traditional holly foliage than do leaves of other I. xattenuata selections. Tolerates limy soil.

I. cassine. DAHOON. Large evergreen shrub or small tree. Zones MS, LS, CS, TS; USDA 7-11. Native to swamps and moist lowlands from North Carolina to Florida and Louisiana. Dense, upright habit to 2030 ft. tall, 815 ft. wide. Leathery, medium green leaves, 24 in. long, toothed only at tips. Heavy crops of small berries in red to reddish orange (sometimes nearly yellow). Grows naturally in wet, acid soils; tolerates mild alkalinity and has some salt tolerance. Regular to ample water.

I. cornuta. CHINESE HOLLY. Evergreen shrub or small tree. Zones US, MS, LS, CS; USDA 6-9. From China and Korea. Very tolerant of heat, drought, alkaline soil. Dense or open form to 10 ft. or more. Leaves typically glossy, leathery, nearly rectangular, 112 4 in. long, with sharp pines at four corners and at tip. Very large, bright red, long-lasting berries. Selections rather than species usually grown; fruit set, leaf form, and spininess vary. The following selections set fruit without pollination. Deer resistant.

'Berries Jubilee'. Dome-shaped plant to 610 ft., with large leaves and heavy crop of large, bright red berries. Leaves are larger, spinier than those of 'Burfordii'.

'Burfordii'. BURFORD HOLLY. To 20 ft. tall and wide. Leaves nearly spineless, cupped downward. Sets a heavy crop of red fruit (much prized by mockingbirds and cedar waxwings) without a pollenizer. Useful as espalier. Discovered in Atlanta's Westview Cemetery around 1900; hard to find in nurseries nowadays.

'Carissa'. Dwarf to 34 ft. high and 46 ft. wide at maturity. Dense grower with small leaves; good for low hedge. No berries. Sometimes reverts to 'Rotunda', the plant from which it was developed.

'Dazzler'. Compact, upright growth. Glossy leaves have a few stout spines along wavy margins. Loaded with rich red berries.

'D'Or. Quite similar to 'Burfordii' but has bright yellow berries.

'Dwarf Burford' ('Burfordii Nana'). Like 'Burfordii' but is somewhat smaller, to about 8 ft. tall and wide. Densely covered with small (112-in.), light green, nearly spineless leaves. Dark red berries.

'Needlepoint'. NEEDLEPOINT HOLLY. Dense, upright, a little larger than 'Dwarf Burford'. Dark, narrow, green leaves with a single spine at tip; large crops of red berries.

'Rotunda'. DWARF CHINESE HOLLY. Compact grower to 34 ft. tall and 68 ft. wide at maturity. Usually does not produce berries. A few stout spines and rolled leaf margins between spines make the medium light green leaves nearly rectangular.

'Willowleaf'. WILLOWLEAF HOLLY. Dense spreader to 15 ft. high and wide; makes a good screen. Oblong, dark green leaves have smooth margins and a single spine at the tip. Heavy crop of blood-red berries.

I. crenata. JAPANESE HOLLY. Evergreen shrub. Zones US, MS, LS; USDA 6-8. From Russia, Japan, Korea. The backbone of many a foundation planting because it's an attractive plant that's hard to kill. Looks more like boxwood (Buxus) than holly. Dense, erect, usually 34 ft. high, sometimes to 10 ft. Narrow, fine-toothed, dark green leaves, 1234 in. long; black berries. Extremely hardy and useful where winter cold limits choice of tender evergreens for hedges, edgings. Selections include the following.

'Beehive'. Dense, compact mound to 34 ft. tall, 56 ft. wide.

'Compacta'. Rounded shrub to 6 ft. tall. Dense habit. Many different plants are sold under this name.

'Convexa'. Compact, rounded shrub to 46 ft. high, spreading wider. Leaves are roundish, cupped downward at the edges. Use clipped or unclipped. Many different plants are sold under this name.

'Dwarf Pagoda'. Exceptionally dense, slow-growing plantto 1 ft. high and wide in 8 years. Leaves are tiny.

'Fine Line'. Upright pyramid to 1015 ft. tall, 48 ft. wide. Glossy, dark green leaves have a yellow-green, translucent edge. Red fruit.

'Glory'. Male (fruitless) selection. Small, dense, round form; grows 5 ft. tall, 8 ft. wide. Extremely hardy.

'Golden Gem'. Male (fruitless) selection with bright golden leaves (best color when grown in full sun). Grows 12 ft. tall and wide.

'Helleri'. Dwarf selection to 1 ft. high, 2 ft. wide; larger after many years, to 4 ft. tall and 5 ft. wide. Very sensitive to poor drainage. Brittle branches.

'Jersey Pinnacle'. Compact, dense, erect. To eventual 8 ft. tall, 2 ft. wide.

'Piccolo'. Slowly forms a tidy, dense, dark green mound 1 ft. high and wide.

'Sky Pencil'. Narrow, columnar plant to 68 ft. tall and 2 ft. wide. Striking in containers.

'Soft Touch'. Grows 2 ft. tall, 3 ft. wide. Unlike other selections, it has soft, flexible branches.

I. decidua. POSSUMHAW. Deciduous tree. Zones US, MS, LS, CS; USDA 6-9. Native to the Southeast. To 610 ft., possibly to 20 ft. Pale gray stems; shiny dark green leaves to 3 in. long. Orange to red berries last into winter or spring. 'Warren's Red', eventually 1520 ft. tall, bears a heavy crop of large red berries. 'Byers Golden' is a yellow-fruited selection. 'Council Fire' is lower growing, sports orange- red berries. For fruit production, these need a male pollenizer such as 'Red Escort' or any male selection of I. opaca, such as 'Jersey Knight'.

I. 'Doctor Kassab'. Evergreen shrub or tree. Zones US, MS, LS, CS; USDA 6-9. Hybrid between I. cornuta and I. pernyi. To 1520 ft. high and 1215 ft. wide, with broad, pyramidal form. Beautiful foliage: lustrous dark green, oval, pointed leaves with toothed edges, to 2 in. long. Plenty of bright red berries. Quite cold hardy, surviving 10F.

I. 'Emily Bruner'. Evergreen shrub or tree. Zones MS, LS, CS; USDA 7-9. Chance hybrid between I. cornuta 'Burfordii' and I. latifolia. Dense, pyramidal grower to 1220 ft. tall, 1015 ft. wide. Handsome dark green leaves to 45 in. long, with prominently toothed edges. Large red berries. Use male selection I. 'James Swann' as pollenizer.

I. glabra. INKBERRY. Evergreen shrub. Zones US, MS, LS, CS; USDA 6-9. Native to eastern North America. To 10 ft. tall and wide, with thick, spineless, dark green leaves to 2 in. long (leaves turn olive-green in winter). Berries are black. More widely sold than the species is dwarf form 'Compacta'; it reaches 4 ft. high and wide but can be sheared to make a 2-ft. hedge. 'Densa', 'Nigra', 'Nordic', and 'Shamrock' are other dwarf forms. Grows in sun or partial shade; prefers acid soil. Tolerates wet soil and salt spray. Deer resistant.

I. latifolia. LUSTERLEAF HOLLY. Evergreen tree. Zones MS, LS, CS; USDA 7-9. Native to China, Japan. Slow-growing, stout-branched plant to 2025 ft. tall, 15 ft. wide. Leaves are 68 in. long (largest of all hollies), dull dark green, leathery, fine toothed. Big clusters of large, dull red berries. In youth, resembles Southern magnolia (Magnolia grandifolia).

I. 'Lydia Morris'. Evergreen shrub or small tree. Zones US, MS, LS, CS; USDA 6-9. Hybrid between I. cornuta 'Burfordii' and I. pernyi. Dense, pyramidal habit; reaches 2025 ft. tall, 15 ft. wide. Very spiny, 112- to 3-in.-long, lustrous blackish green leaves are held close to stems. Cardinal red berries. Use male selection I. 'John Morris' as pollenizer. Deer resistant.

I. 'Mary Nell'. Evergreen shrub or small tree. Zones US, MS, LS, CS; USDA 6-9. Complex hybrid involving I. cornuta 'Burfordii', I. latifolia, and a selection of I. pernyi. To 2530 ft. tall, 15 ft. wide, with pyramidal habit. Very shiny, spiny dark green leaves to 4 in. long; great quantities of bright red berries. Popular in the Southeast.

I. xmeserveae. MESERVE HOLLY. Evergreen shrub. Zones US, MS; USDA 6-7. Apparently the most cold hardy of hollies with the true holly look. Most plants in this category are hybrids between I. aquifolium and I. rugosa, a cold-tolerant species from northern Japan; they are dense, bushy shrubs 67 ft. tall and wide, with purple stems and spiny, glossy, blue-green leaves. Among red-berried female selections are 'Blue Girl' and 'Blue Princess'; male pollenizers include 'Blue Boy' and 'Blue Prince'. 'Golden Girl' has yellow berries. Red-fruited 'China Girl' and male pollenizer 'China Boy', both to 10 ft. tall, are crosses of I. cornuta and I. rugosa. They are slightly hardier and tolerate more summer heat than the Blue series. 'Ebony Magic' reaches at least 812 ft. tall, 68 ft. wide, with upright, pyramidal form. Blackish purple stems and spiny-edged, shiny, dark green leaves to 12 in. long; big orange-red berries last through spring. Use 'Ebony Male' as pollenizer.

I. 'Nellie R. Stevens'. Evergreen shrub or small tree. Zones US, MS, LS, CS; USDA 6-9. Hybrid between I. aquifolium and I. cornuta. The South's most popular large holly. Dense, fast-growing, conical plant to 1520 ft. tall, 10 ft. wide. Leathery, glossy, dark green leaves are sparsely toothed and reach 3 in. long. Sets fruit without a pollenizer but produces more berries if pollinated by a male selection of I. cornuta. A favorite for foundation and corner plantings as well as for tall screens. Probably the best all-around holly for the South.

I. 'Oakland'. Evergreen shrub. Zones US, MS, LS. CS; USDA 6-9. Hybrid of complex parentage. Dense, pyramidal plant to 1520 ft. high and 1215 ft. wide. Closely spaced, bright green leaves have the look of an elongated oak leaf with spines. Red berries appear without the need for a pollenizer. Makes a fine specimen or large hedge. Good resistance to diseases and pests.

I. opaca. AMERICAN HOLLY. Evergreen tree. Zones US, MS, LS, CS; USDA 6-9. Native to eastern U.S. Slowly grows to 4050 ft. tall, 2040 ft. wide; densely pyramidal when young, then becomes open, irregular, and picturesque with age. Spiny green leaves reach 24 in. long, may be glossy or dull; show some bronzing in winter. Red berries. Site in a wind-protected spot. Subject to many pests, with leaf miner being perhaps the most troublesome; to control, pick off and destroy all affected leaves in spring. If this is impractical, spray with an insecticide registered for use on holly (check with your local Cooperative Extension Office). Rarely both- ered by deer. Hundreds of selections exist, offering great variety. The following are some of the better and more widely available forms.

'Canary'. Large crops of buttercup-yellow berries. Light olive-green leaves have small spines and do not discolor in winter.

'Dan Fenton'. Forms a compact pyramid to 20 ft. tall and 15 ft. wide. Large, dark green leaves have a squarish appearance. Lustrous red berries.

'Jersey Knight'. Slow-growing male selection with shiny, dark green leaves. Selected to pollinate 'Jersey Princess'.

'Jersey Princess'. Lustrous, very dark green leaves hold color throughout winter. Abundant red berries. Very cold hardy. Excellent performer in the Southeast.

'Maryland Dwarf' ('Maryland Spreader'). Unusual prostrate form grows slowly to 3 ft. high, 610 ft. wide. Large, glossy, deep green leaves; red berries.

'Merry Christmas'. Fast-growing, densely branched tree. Glossy, deep green leaves have short spines. Profuse bright red berries.

'Miss Helen'. Dense, conical tree with leathery, dark green leaves. Plenty of egg-shaped, dark red berries are produced if a male pollenizer such as 'Jersey Knight' is nearby.

I. pedunculosa. LONGSTALK HOLLY. Evergreen shrub or small tree. Zones US, MS; USDA 6-7. Exceptionally cold hardy for a broad-leafed evergreen. From China, Japan. Grows to 15 ft. or taller; awkward shape when young. Narrow, smooth-edged leaves 13 in. long, half as wide. Bright red, 14-in. berries dangle on 1- to 112-in.-long stalks in fall.

I. pernyi. PERNY HOLLY. Evergreen tree. Zones US, MS, LS; USDA 6-8. Native to China. Slow growth to 2030 ft. tall, 10 ft. wide. Glossy, 1- to 2-in.-long leaves, square at base, one to three spines on each side; closely packed against branchlets. Red berries set tightly against stems.

I. 'Red Beauty'. Evergreen shrub. Zones US, MS, LS, CS; USDA 6-9. Hybrid between I. x meserveae and I. pernyi. Forms a dense pyramid 710 ft. tall and 45 ft. wide, with dark green, spiny leaves and bright red berries. Sets fruit without a pollenizer but puts on a better show near a male variety of I. x meserveae.

I. 'Robin'. Evergreen shrub or small tree. Zones US, MS, LS, CS; USDA 6-9. Seedling of I. 'Mary Nell'. Beautiful, spiny leaves to 3 in. long emerge maroon, then mature to dark green. Abundant red berries. Similar in form and cold hardiness to I. 'Nellie R. Stevens' but may grow somewhat larger.

I. 'Sparkleberry'. Deciduous shrub. Zones US, MS, LS, CS; USDA 6-9. Female selection of hybrid between I. verticillata and I. serrata, released by the U.S. National Arboretum. 'Harvest Red' and 'Bonfire' (pollinated by 'Ruritam Chief') are even better. Grows to 6 ft. high and wide; old specimens may reach 12 ft. Tooth-edged, dark green leaves to 4 in. long drop in early winter. Sets copious amounts of large, bright red fruit that persists through winter; pollinate with male 'Apollo'. Tolerates wet soils.

I. verticillata. WINTERBERRY. Deciduous shrub. Zones US, MS, LS, CS; USDA 6-9. Native to swamps of eastern North America. Unlike most hollies, this one thrives in boggy soils, but it will succeed in any moist, acid, organic soil. Species and most selections grow 610 ft. tall and wide, eventually forming clumps by suckering. Dark green, oval leaves to 3 in. long may turn yellow in autumn. Female plants bear enormous crops of bright red berries that ripen in early fall and last all winter (if the birds don't eat them). Plant one male plant for every six females. Selections include the following. Deer resistant.

'Afterglow'. Orange to orange-red berries on a slow-growing, compact, globe-shaped plant.

'Cacapon'. Compact and upright, with glossy, crinkled leaves. Particularly long-lasting berries. Does very well in the Southeast.

'Jim Dandy'. Male form used to pollinate 'Afterglow', 'Cacapon', 'Red Sprite', and 'Shaver'. Grows 36 ft. tall, 48 ft. wide.

'Red Sprite'. Dwarf form grows to 35 ft. high and wide. Large bright red berriesthe largest fruit of the dwarf winterberries.

'Shaver'. Slow-growing plant with large orange-red berries.

'Southern Gentleman'. Male form used to pollinate 'Cacapon', 'Shaver', 'Winter Red'.

'Winter Gold'. Resembles 'Winter Red', but with lighter green leaves and pinkish or golden orange berries. Use male selection 'Southern Gentleman' as pollenizer.

'Winter Red'. Large, rounded form; profuse bright red berries that retain their color into February. Lustrous, good-looking leaves. Considered by many to be the best winterberry. Use male selection 'Southern Gentleman' as pollenizer.

I. vomitoria. YAUPON. Evergreen shrub or small tree. Zones MS, LS, CS, TS; USDA 7-11. Native to the South. Grows in almost any soilacid or alkaline, wet or dry, rich or poor. Good plant for the beach. Tolerates salt spray. Grows to 1520 ft. tall, with narrow, inch- long, shallowly toothed, dark green leaves. Can be grown as standard or sheared into columnar form; good topiary plant. Tiny scarlet berries are borne in profusion. Resists damage by deer. Popular selections include the following.

'Bordeaux'. To 34 ft. high and wide, with lustrous green leaves that turn wine-red in winter.

'Gold Top'. Golden new growth. Red fruit.

'Katherine'. Bears a heavy crop of golden yellow fruit.

'Nana'. DWARF YAUPON. Low shrub. Compact grower to 112 ft. high and twice as wide. Refined, attractive. Inconspic- uous berries.

'Pendula'. Weeping branches look best when plant is trained as standard.

'Pride of Houston'. Upright, freely branching. Use as screen or hedge. Bears an abundant crop of berries.

'Stokes' ('Stokes Dwarf', 'Schillings Dwarf'). Male form. Compact plant with tiny, dark green leaves closely set on branches. Smaller than 'Nana'.

'Scarlet's Peak'. Female form. Narrow, upright grower to 20 ft. tall and just 3 ft. wide. Dark green leaves and plenty of red berries. Does not splay open with time like the male 'Will Fleming'.

Most hollies prefer rich, moist, slightly acid, well-drained soil, though there are some exceptions (these are noted). All appreciate a layer of mulch to discourage weeds and keep the soil cool and moist. Though hollies will grow in sun or light shade, you'll get denser growth and heavier berry production in full sun. Diseases and insects are seldom serious; scale and leaf miner are the most common pests.

Evergreen hollies accept pruning quite well. Prune in winter to shape, control size, and harvest berry-laden branches for holiday arrangements. Also remove dead, broken, or crossing branches. Hollies that have grown too large or have become misshapen can be restored by severely shortening main branches; new growth will sprout from branch stubs and quickly fill in.

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