Ilex opaca, commonly called American holly, is an upright, pyramidal, evergreen tree that slowly matures to 15-30' in cultivation, but may reach 50' tall in the wild. It is native to the eastern and central U.S., most frequently found in moist woods, forest bottomlands and swamp peripheries plus some coastal dunes (e.g., Cape Cod down the Atlantic Coast) from Massachusetts to West Virginia to Ohio to southeastern Missouri south to Texas and Florida. This species is easily identified because it is the only native U.S. holly with spiny green leaves and bright red berries. This is the Christmas holly whose berry-laden boughs are typically collected at Christmas time each year for ornamentation ("decking the halls" as it were). Thick, leathery, deep green leaves (2-4" long) have spiny marginal teeth. Species is dioecious (male and female flowers are on separate trees). Greenish-white flowers bloom May-June (male flowers in 3-12 flowered clusters and female flowers solitary or in 2s or 3s). Bright red or orange fruits (drupes to 1/4- 1/2" diameter) ripen in fall on pollinated female trees, and persist on the tree through winter. Birds love the fruit. Specimen or group. Foundation planting. Foliage provides excellent color for the winter landscape, and cuttings of the same are popular additions to Christmas wreaths and decorations. Berries are attractive and a good winter food source for birds. Hedges. Woodland gardens. Easily grown in average, consistently moist, acidic, well-drained soils in full sun to part shade. Hardy in zones 5-9.
Growing Instructions for the American Holly
The seeds have a period of dormancy. They can be planted outdoors in the spring or summer and they will germinate the next spring or they can be cold stratified to simulate winter conditions and to break their dormancy at any time of the year. 1. Soak the seeds in water for 24 hours. 2. Warm stratify the seeds for 60 days. 3. Cold stratify the seeds for 60 days. 3. The seeds like moist, well-drained soil. Prepare a mixture of half potting soil and half sand, perlite or vermiculite. 4. Put the soil in a pot. 5. Sow the seeds 3/8 of an inch deep. 6. Water the soil so that it is moist but not wet. 7. When the seedlings are a few inches tall, they can be transplanted.