American Holly

Ilex Opaca

American Holly

American Holly

Ilex opaca, the American holly, is a species of holly, native to the eastern and south-central United States, from coastal Massachusetts south to central Florida, and west to southeastern Missouri and eastern Texas.

It typically grows as an understory tree in moist forests of the east-central, southeastern, and south-central United States.

The flowers are pollinated by insects, including bees, wasps, ants, and night-flying moths. The berries are reputedly poisonous to humans, but are important survival food for birds, who will eat the berries after other food sources are exhausted. The tree also forms a thick canopy which offers protection for birds from predators and storms. Songbirds including thrushes, mockingbirds, catbirds, bluebirds and thrashers frequently feed on the berries.

American Holly

American Holly with unripe berries

THe American Holly is often cultivated by plant nurseries for use as a broadleaf evergreen ornamental plant, planted as a shrub or slower growing ornamental tree.  Over 1,000 cultivars have been selected, including plants selected for cold tolerance (‘Cobalt’, a male cultivar, is able to tolerate temperatures as low as −32 °C), growth form (e.g. dwarf forms such as ‘Cardinal Hedge’, a female plant growing to 1.2 m tall), and color and abundance of fruit (notable female cultivars including the large-berried ‘Yule’, and the yellow-berried ‘Canary’ and ‘Morgan Gold’).

Identification and Description

Adapted to Georgia hardiness zones:      6b, 7a, 7b, 8a, 8b.      Atlanta is zone 7b   [1]

For more photos and identification help, we recommend the UGA Extension site: Native Plants for Georgia Part I: Trees, Shrubs and Woody Vines (B 987).

Champion American Holly Trees in Atlanta and Georgia


Atlanta Champion Trees – full list
Georgia Champion Trees – full list
Intown Hawk – Condensed Atlanta and Georgia List

References and Additional Information

[1] UGA Extension: Native Plants for Georgia Part I: Trees, Shrubs and Woody Vines (B 987) – American Holly
[2]  Wikipedia: Ilex opaca
[3]  Missouri Botanical Garden: Ilex Opaca