Education - Plants

American HollyAmerican Holly
(Ilex opaca)

Kingdom:  Plantae
Division:  Magnoliophyta
Class:  Magnoliopsida
Order:  Aquifoliales
Family:  Aquifoliaceae
Genus:  Ilex
Species:  opaca


Characteristics: The American Holly is a narrow, rounded tree that can grow to between 40 and 70 feet in height. The diameter ranges between 1 to 2 feet. The bark is smooth and grayish in color. The American Holly is most easily recognized by its evergreen, thick, spiny leaves. In the spring it produces small white flowers and in the fall forms bright red berries that last through the winter. Many song and game birds eat the bitter berries, helping to spread the seeds.

Habitat: The American Holly prefers moist but well drained soils, especially flood plains. It also grows well in mixed deciduous forests.

Range: It can be found from Massachusetts to Central Florida, and south central Texas to Missouri.

Native American Uses: Infusions of the American Holly were used by the Native Americans as an eye medicine, a dermatological aid, and berries were chewed as a gastrointestinal aid. In addition, they used the wood for crafts and tools and used the berries for dye. The Cherokee Indians are among the Native American tribes that utilized the American Holly.

Colonial Uses: The leaves were used as a tea substitute, despite the fact that they don’t contain caffeine.

Modern Uses: Today, the American Holly is a popular ornamental tree and the evergreen fruiting branches are commonly used as Christmas decorations. The whitish colored wood is used in cabinetry and other carvings and can be easily dyed many shades, even black. The berries should not be consumed as they are poisonous.