What is an American Holly Tree?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 08 October 2019
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The American holly tree or Ilex opaca is a species of holly native to New England. A huge number of cultivars have been developed and named, and the American holly is a favorite in landscaping all over the world, not just the United States. In addition to being found in gardens, the American holly tree is also alive and well in the wild, and can be seen on many hikes and walking paths in the Northeastern region between USDA zones five and eight in the United States.

This tree is an evergreen, producing dark green leaves which are sometimes tipped in sharp, thorn-like protrusions. In the spring, hollies produce small white flowers, and assuming that both a male and female tree are present, fruit will develop and set in the fall. The fruit of the American holly tree is a bright, vibrant red which stands out starkly against the green leaves.

Many people associate hollies with Christmas and other winter holidays, since their evergreen leaves are often used in decoration during this season. These trees aren't just decorative: they also provide habitat for animals, and many birds feed on the berries during the winter months, when other sources of food can be scarce or difficult to obtain.


Typically, an American holly tree grows very slowly, and it develops a pyramidal shape, spreading out over time. The trees can be pruned to have a more regular shape, and some gardeners plant them in rows and train them so that they grow into dense hedges. A holly hedge can be aesthetically pleasing, as it will stay green year round, and it will also grow very dense, making a highly effective barrier.

Like many evergreens, the American holly tree is very easy to care for, and in fact it often prefers neglect to fussy horticultural practices. These trees are acid-loving, and they need some space to grow, preferring not to be crowded by other trees. It is also important to avoid planting young trees in the shade, as they may struggle to grow. Working in coffee grounds and other soil amendments can keep the soil healthy, and these trees require fertilizer around once a year, if at all, with no watering necessary after the first year of life unless there is an extreme drought.

Many garden supply stores carry seedlings, including male and female trees for companion planting so that the plants will develop their distinctive fruit. It is also possible to order American holly seedlings directly from various nurseries, including dwarf cultivars specifically designed for use in low hedges and border plantings.



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