Content Detail

American holly is a broad-leaved evergreen tree reaching 40 to 50 feet high, densely pyramidal in youth becoming more open and symmetrically conical with age. The dark green, elliptical leaves have several spiny teeth along the leaf margin. Plants grow best in low pH acidic soils in part shade. Avoid windy sites. Trees are either male or female and require both to get fruit production. This species does not grow to its full potential in northern Illinois.

  • Family (English) Holly
  • Family (botanic) Aquifoliaceae
  • Planting site Residential and parks
  • Tree or plant type Tree
  • Foliage Evergreen (foliage year-round)
  • Native locale Illinois, North America
  • Size range Large tree (more than 40 feet)
  • Mature height 40-50 feet
  • Mature width 18-40 feet
  • Light exposure Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily), Partial sun / shade (4-6 hrs light daily)
  • Hardiness zones Zone 5 (Northern Illinois), Zone 6 (City of Chicago), Zone 7, Zone 8, Zone 9
  • Soil preference Acid soil, Moist, well-drained soil
  • Tolerances Road salt
  • Season of interest early winter, midwinter, late winter, early spring, mid spring, late spring, early summer, midsummer, late summer, early fall, mid fall, late fall
  • Flower color and fragrance Inconspicuous, White
  • Shape or form Pyramidal
  • Growth rate Slow
  • Transplants well No
  • Planting considerations Marginally hardy, May be difficult to find in nurseries
  • Wildlife Birds, Insect pollinators, Large mammals, Small mammals
  • Has cultivars Yes

Native geographic location and habitat: 

American holly is native to the eastern and southeastern United States.

Bark color and texture:

The bark is smooth, gray, and thin.

Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, and texture: 

The evergreen leaves are alternate and simple, with sharply pointed teeth. The color is dark green and they range in size from 1 1/2 to 4 inches long.

Flower arrangement, shape, and size: 

Male and female flowers grow on separate plants. The very small white flowers are fragrant.

Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions: 

The red berries grow on female plants only. A male plant is needed to pollinate the female and produce the berries.

Plant care:

American holly prefers acidic soil. It is intolerant of drought and poor drainage. This tree does not always reach its full potential in northern climates as it is considered marginally hardy in zone 5. This plant does not need much pruning.

List of pests and diseases

A number of pests are possible, including leaf miner, scale insects, leaf spots, and canker diseases.


Your support is vital to the Arboretum, where the power of trees makes a positive impact on people’s lives.

Make a gift