Skip to main content

Florida 4-H Forest Ecology

Florida 4-H Forest Ecology

American Holly

Ilex opaca var. opaca
Family: Aquifoliaceae

Natural History

Leaves and fruit of American holly | Photo credit: Larry Korhnak, University of Florida

Plants in the holly family - Aquifoliaceae - have been widely-used by humans in landscaping and in holiday decorations.

Because English holly (Ilex aquifolium) keeps its dark green leaves, and bears bright red fruit in the wintertime, it was used for centuries as a symbol of Christmas and other winter celebrations. European immigrants to North America continued the tradition by using American holly in the same way.

The persistent leaves of American holly often have several thorny spines around the margin. These spines are quite sharp and distinctive. The bright red fruits also help distinguish American holly from other trees.

What we call "American holly" (Ilex opaca var. opaca) is only one variety of the species. Another closely-related variety found here in Florida is scrub holly (Ilex opaca var. arenicola). Scrub holly differs from American holly in having smaller, more yellow-green leaves that are cupped to resemble boats.

Section Topics