Footsteps in the Forest

American Holly

(Ilex opaca)

Height: To 100 feet, but usually much smaller  

Evergreen/Deciduous: Evergreen

Lifespan: Up to 100 years  

Fall Foliage: Green  

Range: The southeastern United States from New Jersey to Texas  

Typical Habitat: Typically an understory species; it adapts to a variety of soil types and moisture levels  

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The American Holly: An Important Wildlife Resource   

In addition to being popular among humans, who often plant it as an ornamental plant, the American holly is one of the most important understory species in many portions of its range.  

This value comes in two different forms. For starters, the tree forms a very dense evergreen canopy, complete with predator-thwarting spines on the leaves. This makes it an excellent species in which native birds can nest.

But the holly is also an important food source, as it produces an abundance of berries, which, although toxic to humans and many other animals, help sustain birds throughout the winter.

American Holly Identification: Tips & Tricks

Typically, the American holly presents few identification challenges. The combination of the spiky, evergreen leaves and bright red berries (in the winter) is generally enough to distinguish them from any other native species.

There are a few other native hollies that look somewhat similar, but the American holly is the only one that reaches tree-like proportions.  

The American Holly: Additional Information

Looking for more information about this species? Start by checking out the following resources:

  • U.S. Forest Service: An in-depth examination of the species, including information about the tree’s ecology, growth habit, and susceptibility to fire.
  • North Carolina State Extension: Basic information, a helpful (and easy to reference) chart, and a number of photos of the American holly tree.
  • Illinois Wildflowers: General information, as well as quite a bit of ecological tidbits.   

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