Tennessee Smart Yards Native Plants

A comprehensive database of Tennessee native plants

American Holly

American Holly

Ilex opaca

Full to part sun; medium moisture level; best growth on rich organic soils but tolerates a broad range including sandy and clay soils; moderately acid pH.

15-30 feet height by 10-20 feet spread; greenish white flowers in May and June; red berries, ¼ to ½ inch diameter, in October which persist through winter.

Growth Rate: Slow to very slow

Maintenance: Generally low maintenance but is sensitive to several types of leaf spots. Prune in winter.

Propagation: Moderately difficult from cuttings and difficult from seed

Native Region: Statewide with lowest concentration in the Central Basin

This broadleaf evergreen is the holly that is typically collected at Christmas time and is the only U.S. native holly with bright red berries. Attractive foliage and bright red fruit make this small, understory tree very popular. Male and female flowers occur on separate plants. Female flowers are solitary or in groups of 2 or 3; male flowers occur in 3-12 flower clusters. Newly established plants require 4-7 years before they flower so difficult to identify male and female plants. Only female plants produce fruit, so plant 1 male for every 2-3 female plants. When planting, avoid extremely dry, windy, unprotected locations. Prefers partial shade. Does not tolerate flooding or saturated soil. Many cultivars available. For clay soils, the cultivar ‘Savannah’ is recommended.

Many kinds of songbirds, gamebirds and mammals eat the berries, but fruits are poisonous to humans. Also attracts butterflies and is a special value plant for honeybees. Dense foliage provides cover and nesting sites for songbirds.

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