see it clearly
Holly Tree
Leaf Shape Spiky
Mature Height 6 to 70 feet depending on type
Best Habitat Well-drained soil and partial sunlight
Best Climate Cool to warm
Output Berry-like fruit
Uses Decorations and medicine

Holly Trees

The Holly tree may be synonymous with Christmas, but if you learn how to cultivate the festive topiary in your own yard, you can enjoy its beauty and charm year-round. The Holly's bright red berries are real eye pleasers, but they're just part of what makes the tree an excellent landscape specimen. The hardy tree from the genus Ilex thrives as a border and accent plant thanks to its hardiness and longevity. What's more, its glossy foliage makes it an attractive addition to any size property.

Appearance of the Tree

Holly Leaves
Holly Leaves

Holly trees vary in size from six feet tall to upwards of 70 feet depending on the type, though most average about 15 to 30 feet. Pruning the tree regularly will allow you to keep it at a manageable height so that you will be able to enjoy its other noteworthy characteristics:

  • Leaves: The Holly's dark green spiky leaves are hard to miss. Texture-wise the leaves are stiff, though shiny, and measure roughly two to four inches long. Since the tree is a slow growing perennial the leaves stay green year-round.
  • Fruit: The bright red globular fruit of the Holly tree is one of its most distinguishable characteristics. The berries mature in the fall, but often last through winter. The berry-like fruit contains seeds and typically grows to about 1/3-inch in diameter. The berries are poisonous to humans when eaten in excess.
  • Flowers: The Holly tree sprouts greenish-white flowers in the spring after its fifth or sixth growing season. The blossoms are quite small and form in clusters on the tree's branches.

The bark of the Holly tree is grayish-brown in color and smooth, though it is hard to see through the dense leaves and pyramid silhouette.


Mature Holly Tree
Mature Holly Tree
Holly Berries
Holly Flowers
Holly Tree with Berries

Holly Tree Types

Holly Trees
American Holly

There are more than 500 different species of Holly trees located throughout the world. Among the most popular are:

  • Japanese Holly: Known for its prickly foliage, the Japanese Holly can grow up to 20 feet tall. Its glossy leaves do not fall during autumn; rather, they remain dark green year-round. The tree needs ample water and sunlight to survive.
  • English Holly: This variety of Holly is grown mainly as an ornamental tree. Its dense foliage and bright red berries make it an outstanding choice for decorative pruning. When sheared properly the tree can grow into a large pyramid shape.
  • American Holly: With its dark green leaves and crimson berries, the American Holly is a top choice for Christmas d├ęcor. The low maintenance tree grows quickly and can withstand cold weather. The species also produces a large amount of fruit in the fall.

The Many Looks of the Holly Tree

Holly in Spring

Holly in Spring

Holly in the Fall

Holly in the Fall

Holly in Winter

Holly in Winter

Winterberry Holly

Winterberry Holly

Holly Hedge

Holly Hedge

Holly Berries

Holly Berries

Example Frame

Where the Holly Grows

Ripe Hollyberries
Holly in Winter

Holly trees grow year-round throughout much of the world, though they thrive in:

  • Europe
  • Western and central Asia, especially Japan and China
  • North Africa
  • North America, particularly the United States

The trees prefer moist, well-drained soil and partial sun. Too much direct sunlight robs Holly trees of precious water needed to keep them healthy. Most Holly tree types require soil that is slightly acidic, though the Winterberry species needs soil that is very acidic.

Popular Uses

Holly Tea
Holly Wreath

Most people deck the halls with boughs of holly at Christmas. While the berries and leaves make for festive embellishments on wreaths and floral arrangements that decorate mantles, tables, and doors, the tree offers other uses, such as:

  • Medicine: Centuries ago Holly leaves were infused into tea and given to malaria patients to alleviate their fever. In addition, while highly toxic, some pioneers would extract juice from Holly berries and consume it as a cure for jaundice. Today, Holly leaves are used as a diuretic and laxative.
  • Wood: Holly tree wood is highly susceptible to splitting which is why it is used mainly to craft smaller items such as bowls, utensils and decorative boxes.
  • Luck: In the 19th Century, the Holly tree was considered good luck. The small tree would be planted near houses to ward off lightning and witches.


Interesting Facts

Holly has long been a symbol of the Christmas season in various parts of the world. Consequently, many interesting facts exist in regards to its role with the holiday, including:

Holly Branch
Sacred Holly Tree
  • Rome: Holly was considered a sacred tree in Ancient Rome. Residents would attach sprigs of Holly on their doors during the winter months to ward off evil spirits.
    England: Centuries ago residents of England would plant Holly trees outside their homes so elves could hide in it while they waited for Santa to visit on Christmas Eve. Another ancient custom maintained that churches were to cut-up holiday wreaths and distribute sprigs of Holly to parishioners to ensure luck for the upcoming year.
    Japan: In Japan, Holly trees are related to the Sun Goddess Amaterasu. Legend has it that another goddess would tie a jewel and mirror to a Holly branch to lure Amaterasu out of her cave each spring.

Holly Diseases

Holly trees are hardy, but they are far from invincible. In fact, there are a number of fungal diseases that target Holly trees, including:

  • Tar Spot: The fungal disease causes yellow spots to form on the tree's leaves. If not treated, the spots turn reddish-brown, and then black before falling off prematurely.
  • Black Root Rot: The common fungus occurs underground, though some symptoms are visible on the tree's surface, such as yellowing of the leaves. Infected trees will also have black roots.
  • Leaf Spot: The disease causes gray or brown spots to appear on Holly tree leaves. Occasionally, the marks may leave holes and the leaves will brown and fall off prematurely.

Most fungus-related diseases can be cured if caught early. These diseases won't kill a Holly if the infected parts of the tree are removed before the infection spreads.


Holly Care

Holly Tree Care
Holly Tree Care

To ensure that your Holly tree remains festive and bright throughout the year, follow these simple tips:

  • Add compost to the soil before planting the tree.
  • Acid-based fertilizer should only be added to the tree's base once a year.
  • Space Holly trees roughly 15 feet from one another, as the tree is apt to grow horizontally more than vertically.
  • Routine pruning is encouraged if you want to keep the tree at a manageable height. The tree can be shaped to your liking with adept shearing.
  • Water the tree regularly. If you don't have the means to water your Holly tree on a regular basis, then apply some mulch at the base of the tree to retain moisture and keep weeds under control.

Finally, since Holly leaves have sharp thorns, it's a good idea to wear gloves when pruning the tree or removing berries to make wreaths or other decorations.