Friday, May 22, 2020

American Holly - Ilex opaca

The American Holly - Ilex opaca, is an evergreen holly that is most easily recognized by it's uniquely shaped lustrous dark green leaves with spiny margins.  American holly is a slow growing, long lived tree that can reach heights of around 60 feet tall, however they average only 45 feet in most regions.  They grow in an mostly erect upright fashion, with a single main trunk and a pyramidal shaped crown when grown in open areas.  Usually planted as a specimen tree, they require little pruning to keep their shape and naturally have a symmetrical growth habit.  When found in forest and woodland settings the American Holly has more of cylindrical shape with less branches and less symmetry.  

Image Citation: Richard Webb,

The American Holly has smooth light gray bark that occasionally has wart like growths.  The leaves are Alternate and simply shaped, either oblong or elliptic.  The leaf apex is spine tipped, sharp enough to pierce your skin, the margins usually are rolled downward.  The upper leaf surface is lustrous and dark green in color, the lower is duller but close to the same color.  The "fruit" comes in the form of small lustrous 7-12 mm rounded red berries.  These berries appear in the fall and grow in clusters at the base of the leaves.  Only female Holly Trees bear fruit/berries, which occur in Autumn annually.  Don't be confused however by the word fruit, the leaves and berries from Holly Trees are NOT EDIBLE to humans, and are known to cause severe stomach issues if ingested.  The small white flowers of the Holly occur with male and female on separate trees.

Image Citation: Rebekah D. Wallace, University of Georgia,

American Holly is native to moist woodlands, rich slopes, margins of floodplain forests from 0-1500 m.  The American Holly can be found from New York and Massachusetts in the North all along the East coast South through Florida and West through South Easter Missouri and Eastern Texas.  They are recommended for hardiness zones 5-9 and is considered both evergreen and ornamental.  Holly trees offer beauty all year long as well as wildlife cover and food for birds.  Over 1000 cultivars have been developed from the Holly.  American Holly is the state tree of Delaware.  

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