St. Augustine campus


American Holly

Ilex opaca

The American Holly occurs in hammocks and other habitats with rich damp soils over northern and upper middle Florida. The tree has become uncommon due to the large numbers harvested for Christmas decorations. It is a medium-sized tree, seldom exceeding 40-50 feet in height with a trunk diameter of 12 inches. The bark is light gray and roughened by wart-like growths. The numerous short, slender branches form a dense, narrow, pyramidal crown of dark green foliage, forming a striking backdrop to the often copious red berries.

The leaves are simple, alternate, oval, leathery, one to four and one half inches long and armed with spiny teeth on the margins; they persist on the branches for about three years. The flowers are small, whitish and inconspicuous. Male and female flowers are usually borne on separate trees.

The fruit, which ripens late in the fall and persists on the branches over the winter, is a dull red, or rarely yellow, nearly globose drupe. It is about one-third of an inch in diameter and contains four to six ribbed nutlets.

The wood is light, tough, not strong, and nearly white. It has been used for cabinet work and wood-turning but has limited commercial use.

Several other species of Ilex grow in Florida: Ilex cassine, Dahoon; Ilex ambigua, Sand Holly; Ilex glabra, Gallberry; and Ilex vomitoria, Yaupon.


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American Holly 1

American Holly 2

American Holly 3

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Tree information provided with permission of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services for more information visit