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Ilex opaca

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Kemper Code:  K640

Common Name: American holly
Zone: 5 to 9
Plant Type: Broadleaf evergreen
Family: Aquifoliaceae
Missouri Native: Yes
Native Range: Eastern and central United States
Height: 15 to 30 feet
Spread: 10 to 20 feet
Bloom Time: May   Bloom Data
Bloom Color: Creamy white
Sun: Full sun to part shade
Water: Medium
Maintenance: Low

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Plant Culture and Characteristics

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  Uses:       Wildlife:   Flowers:   Leaves:   Fruit:
Hedge Suitable as annual Attracts birds Has showy flowers Leaves colorful Has showy fruit
Shade tree Culinary herb Attracts Has fragrant flowers Leaves fragrant Fruit edible
Street tree Vegetable   hummingbirds Flowers not showy Good fall color   Other:
Flowering tree Water garden plant Attracts Good cut flower Evergreen Winter interest
Gr. cover (<1') Will naturalize   butterflies Good dried flower     Thorns or spines

General Culture:

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:

American holly is a Missouri native, evergreen tree with a narrow, pyramidal crown. Grows slowly to 15-30' tall in cultivation, but may reach 50' tall in the wild. Occurs in both sandy soils and in deep, moist bottomland soils in Southeastern Missouri. Features spiny-toothed, elliptical, dull green leaves (2-4" long) which are evergreen. The greenish white flowers of both male and female trees appear in May and are relatively inconspicuous. Pollinated female flowers produce red berries which ripen in October and persist throughout the winter. Birds are attracted to the fruit. Opaca means opaque or dull, in reference to the non-lustrous leaf surfaces. Many of the Ilex opaca cultivars have superior foliage (more lustrous) and berries to the species.


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).


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.

Missouri Botanical Garden, 2001-2011

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