American Holly (Ilex opaca)

Plantae>Magnoliophyta>Magnoliopsida>Celastrales>Aquifoliaceae>Ilex opaca Ait.

American Holly (Ilex opaca) leaves fruit

American Holly is a fairly common understory tree, American Holly is easy to identify, with prickly evergreen leaves, smooth bark, and red fruits (on female trees) that last through the winter. Our only similar species is Chinese Holly (Ilex cornuta), which has distinctively shaped leaves and is smaller in stature.

Person Co., NC 4/1/06.

Rarely the leaves may lack spiny teeth.

Jones Co., NC 7/18/2008.

Jones Co., NC 7/18/2008.

American Holly (Ilex opaca) flowers

Flowers appear in early May. The ones at left are staminate (male) flowers.

Wake Co., NC 5/3/2009.

American Holly (Ilex opaca) flowers

Detail of staminate flowers.

Wake Co., NC 5/3/2009.

American Holly (Ilex opaca) leaves

Chapel Hill, NC 5/4/03.

American Holly (Ilex opaca) male flowers

Male flowers. American Holly is dioecious - trees have either male or female flowers. Chapel Hill, NC 5/3/03.

American Holly (Ilex opaca) female flowers

Female flowers. Chatham Co., NC 5/2/04.

Very rarely, American Holly flowers are 5-parted instead of 4-parted. Vance Co., NC 4/26/04.

American Holly (Ilex opaca) bark

The gray bark is very smooth and usually covered with many species of lichens.

More information:
NC State Fact Sheet
Silvics Manual
Trees of Alabama and the Southeast
Virginia Tech Dendrology


All photographs and text ©2010 by Will Cook unless otherwise indicated.