The foliage on a holly tree of shrub is one of its major selling points, with these ornamental leaves either evergreen or deciduous. The shapes and colors vary from one type of holly to another. Some of the non-native hollies feature leaves quite different from those of North American types, with interesting form and color that give these species ornamental value.
Evergreen Types of Holly Leaves
Many of the hollies fall under the heading of broadleaf evergreen plants. Among them is topal holly (Ilex x attenuate), a natural hybrid form growing as a tree in the wild in the southeastern United States. American holly (Ilex opaca) is an evergreen tree type of holly. Yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria) grows in the South as a big shrub or a small tree. English holly (Ilex aquifolium), Chinese holly (Ilex cornuta) and Japanese holly (Ilex crenata) are non-native types of trees with evergreen foliage. Inkberry (Ilex glabra) is a holly shrub with foliage that retains its green color. Most of these evergreen hollies have different cultivar forms; many are shrubs.
Deciduous Types of Holly Leaves
Winterberry (Ilex verticillata) and possumhaw (Ilex decidua) is a pair of deciduous holly shrubs native to North America. Both come in cultivar forms, with all shedding their leaves before winter. Their deciduous nature allows some of these holly species to grow in colder U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones such as zone 3, while the evergreen hollies have a more limited distribution, usually from zone 5 into the warmer zones. Cultivars of winterberry include "Jim Dandy" and "Afterglow." "Council Fire" and "Warren's Red" are cultivar forms of possumhaw.
Japanese holly leaves are typical examples of the foliage color of most of the evergreen hollies. Described by the University of Connecticut Plant Database as being "lustrous," the foliage is a dark shade of green. In some instances, like in the case of American holly, the undersides of the leaf are a paler shade of green. The deciduous holly leaves are green, but some species of these plants are capable of delivering fall color. "Winter Gold" has yellow-bronze foliage in the fall, while yellow is the color of leaves on Council Fire in autumn.
Holly Leaf Shapes
Shapes vary from species to species among the hollies. Possumhaw has leaves with an oval to oblong shape, resembling a kite in some respects, but with rounded edges. Yaupon holly's foliage has a more oval shape, with blunt serrations along the edges. Winterberry leaves are elliptical and feature teeth along the borders. American holly has leaves with the "classic" holly appearance, with the elliptical foliage having distinct teeth with sharp spines at their ends. Inkberry leaves are oval, resembling those of a rhododendron, but with notches on the ends of the leaf. Chinese holly leaves have an unusual shape; they are rectangular, but feature three obvious spines at the end.
- Missouri Botanical Garden: Ilex Vomitoria
- University of Connecticut Plant Database: Ilex Crenata
- Texas A&M University Texas Forest Service: American Holly
- Missouri Botanical Garden: Ilex Verticillata Winter Gold
- Texas A&M University Texas Forest Service: Ilex Decidua
- University of Connecticut Plant Database: Ilex Glabra
- Photo Credit John Foxx/Stockbyte/Getty Images
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