American holly
Ilex opaca

Secondary Names:
evergreen holly

Leaf Type: Evergreen
Texas Native:
Tree Description:

An upright, evergreen tree to 50 feet tall and a trunk to 3 feet in diameter; with numerous, slender branches that form a dense pyramidal or oval crown of striking dark green color. Open-grown specimens have branches that often extend to the ground.

Range/Site Description:

Found on rich, moist soils of bottomland forests in East Texas, westward to Wilson County.


Simple, alternate, 2" to 4" long and 1" to 2" wide, oval, with several spiny teeth along the margin. Leaves are dark green and glossy on top, stiff, leathery, sometimes cupped at the edge, and light green underneath. They remain on the branches three years, dropping off in the spring.


Small and whitish, not showy; male and female flowers are usually borne on separate trees.


A round, or somewhat oval, fleshy drupe, 0.25" to 0.5" long, dull red or sometimes yellow, that ripens late in the fall on the trees bearing female flowers, and enclosing 4 to 6 grooved, ribbed nutlets.


Light gray, tight, leathery, and roughened by wart-like growths and blotches on older specimens.


Light, tough, not strong, white when cut, but turning brown when exposed to the air. Once valued for cabinet making, interior finish, and turnery; now used mostly as a landscape specimen.

Similar Species:

Southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) has much larger evergreen leaves without teeth on the margins; yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria) and live oak (Quercus virginiana) have smaller leaves without spines on the margins.

Interesting Facts:

Holly boughs, especially those with fruits, are commonly used for Christmas holiday decorations such as wreaths.

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