The hundreds of species in the holly genus of large shrubs and small trees feature glossy, leathery green leaves and bright red, orange or purple berries that last through the winter. The most familiar hollies are the evergreen species English holly (Ilex aquifolium) and American holly (Ilex opaca), both used for making seasonal Christmas wreaths. Depending on the species, hollies bloom in mid to late spring and their berries linger on.
Hollies are dioecious, meaning they have separate male and female plants. The flowers of female plants need pollen from male plants to produce berries that are technically drupes, single seeds surrounded by flesh and a hard covering. Female holly flowers yield the colorful drupes that make a striking contrast to the plant’s glossy dark green leaves.
Frequently Grown Hollies
English holly, native from western Asia through western Europe, will grow in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 7 through 9 and yields inconspicuous greenish-white flowers in May followed by red, yellow or orange berries. American holly, USDA plant hardiness zones 5 through 9, also yields greenish-white flowers in May. Its red berries ripen in October and remain on the shrub throughout the winter.
Evergreen Native Hollies
Inkberry (Ilex glabra), native to eastern North America, yields white flowers in May and June, giving way to clusters of dark red berries. You can grow inkberry in USDA zones 4 through 9. Yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria) yields inconspicuous creamy white to gray flowers in spring, giving way to showy red berries. You can grow yaupon in USDA zones 7 through 9B. “Savannah” holly (Ilex x attenuate “Savannah”) grows inconspicuous white flowers in spring followed by heavy clusters of red berries that last throughout fall and winter. It grows in USDA zones 6 through 9.
Deciduous Native Hollies
Possumhaw (Ilex deciduas), native to the central and southeastern United States, yields inconspicuous white flowers in late spring producing orange-red drupes that last until early the next spring. You can grow possumhaw in USDA zones 5 through 9. Winterberry (Ilex verticillata) grows naturally beside ponds and streams and swamps in eastern North America. It grows in USDA zones 3 through 9 and yields inconspicuous greenish-white flowers in late spring. Its red berries last throughout winter, hence its common name.
- Flower Essence Society: Holly Ilex Aquifolium
- Missouri Botanical Garden: Ilex Aquifolium
- University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service: Native Shrubs
- Missouri Botanical Garden: Ilex Opaca
- Missouri Botanical Garden: Ilex Decidua
- Missouri Botanical Garden: Ilex Verticillata
- Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, University of Texas: Ilex Glabra
- University of Florida Extension: Ilex Vomitoria: Youpon Holly
- Missouri Botanical Garden: Ilex Glabra
- University of Florida Extension: Ilex x Attenuata “Savannah”
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