Holly Trees and Bushes: Types, Leaves, Flower, Berries (Pictures) – Identification Guide

Holly trees and shrubs are huge shrubs or trees with thick, glossy, spiky leaves, tiny white blooms, and yellow, orange, black, or red berries. Despite the fact that most hollies are evergreen plants, several deciduous holly bushes shed their leaves throughout the winter. American holly (Ilex opaca) and English holly (Ilex aquifolium) are the two most common holly species. The lustrous, sharp leaves and winter red berries of both of these evergreen holly trees are well-known.

Holly plants can be found in subtropical and temperate climates all over the globe, with around 480 species. Evergreen or deciduous Holly plants are available. Large trees, bushy shrubs, and dwarf cultivars are among the different hollie species. Because of their sharp, spiked leaves and dense foliage, Holly shrubs make excellent security hedges.

Holly berries pose a minor threat to humans. Holly berries may cause stomach discomfort, diarrhea, vomiting, and drowsiness if people consume them, however wildlife may eat them. It’s best not to plant holly bushes where children play because holly berries are poisonous. This guide to the best holly tree and shrub varieties for cultivating in your garden is a help. When choosing the perfect holly for an evergreen landscape, descriptions and images of holly plants can help.

Types of Holly Plants

The genus Ilex and the family Aquifoliaceae are home to holly plants. Male and female blooms grow on different plants, making hollies classified as dioecious plants. Holly trees may reach a height of 30 to 80 feet (10 to 24 meters). Holly bushes, on the other hand, are multi-stemmed plants that may grow up to 6 feet (1.8 meters) tall.

Evergreen Holly Plants

Holly plants are usually evergreen shrubs or trees, with the exception of a few. The thick, glossy leaves with sharp spines along the margins distinguish evergreen holly plants. With their clusters of colorful berries and glossy leaves, the thorny evergreen bushes also add cheer to dreary winter scenery.

Deciduous Holly Plants

The native winterberry shrub is the most common deciduous holly plant. In the autumn before the leaves drop, the slow-growing deciduous holly shrub foliage may turn maroon. Throughout the winter until the green leaves start to regrow in the spring, abundant bright red berries growing on bare stems add plenty of color.

Dwarf Holly Shrubs

Compact gardens, evergreen hedges, and growing in containers are all good choices for dwarf holly shrubs. All of the main shrubbery and tree characteristics may be found on the dwarf shrubs. Dwarf holly shrubs are also popular in winter gardens because of their spiky, evergreen foliage and clusters of red berries.

Holly Leaves

Holly leaves are usually ovate or oblong, glossy green with wavy margins that are serrated, feathered, or smooth. They may be spikey or smooth. One of the best ways to identify individual Ilex species is by looking at holly tree or holly bush leaves. Ovoid leaves with sharp spines on the wavy margins grow on English holly and American holly, for example.

Inkberry holly tree (Ilex glabra), American spineless holly (Ilex opaca), Japanese holly (Ilex crenata), and deciduous American winterberry holly bush (Ilex verticillata) are all examples of Holly plants with leaves that have few or no spines. Variegated cultivars are among the most stunning types of holly trees and shrubs. Glossy dark to light green leaves with creamy yellow borders characterize most varieties of variegated holly plants. Also available are holly plants with prickly leaves or smooth margins that are variegated.

Holly Flower

Holly flowers are four-petaled inconspicuous greenish-white blooms. Female holly plants may be distinguished from male plants by the plant’s blossoms. Pictures of male holly plant blooms show that their stamens are longer than female holly blooms when viewed up close.

Male and female ilex aquifolium flowers (left and right). Berries develop from the female blooms.

Holly Berries

Holly berries are one of the most well-known characteristics of plants in the Ilex genus, and they come in a variety of colors. Holly fruit are tiny round drupes, not berries, botanically speaking. Holly fruit, on the other hand, is referred to as berries by most people.

In the autumn, holly berries blossom, and in the winter, they mature. Red, orange, black, and brown hues are common inedible berry colors. Holly plant species may produce green or yellow berries in uncommon circumstances. During the winter, holly berries are usually found on evergreen bushes.

Holly berries, which are red, should not be eaten. Holly berries, particularly from Ilex aquifolium (English holly) and Ilex opaca (American holly), have been linked to nausea, vomiting, stomach pains, and skin allergies by scientists. Holly berries, on the other hand, are typically non-toxic.

Holly Identification

The leaves and berries of holly trees and bushes may be used to identify them. Glossy leaves with wavy edges, small blunt points, or smooth edges are characteristic of certain holly species. Male hollies don’t produce berries, so species of female holly trees may be identified by their berries.

Types of Holly Trees (With Pictures)

Let’s take a closer look at holly tree varieties that may be used to create evergreen winter settings.

American Holly Tree (Ilex opaca)

The American holly (Ilex opaca) has orange to red berries that appear in the autumn and has dull, dark green leathery leaves with spiny edges. Holly trees, which are similar to English holly, are commonly used for Christmas decorations in America. The holly tree has an open, pyramidal shape that reaches to the sky. The Christmas holly is also called Evergreen American holly trees.

Sun exposure: Deep shade to full sun

Size: 40 to 60 ft. (12 – 18 m) high and up to 20 ft. (6 m) wide

USDA zones: 5 to 9

Holly tree leaves: The dull green and prickly leaves of American holly trees grow up to 4″ (10 cm) long and 3″ (7.5 cm) broad.

Holly tree berries: From September through February, American holly tree berries appear among the evergreen foliage in various hues of orange to red.

Yaupon Holly (Ilex vomitoria)

A tiny evergreen tree or large shrub with tiny glossy, dark green leaves, clusters of white flowers, and lustrous red berries, the yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria) is a small evergreen tree or large shrub. The small, rounded leaves of the yaupon holly are a distinctive feature. They don’t have an apex. This holly tree is excellent for a hedge, windbreak, or screen because of its thick, evergreen leaves.

The dense foliage of the yaupon holly tree makes it ideal for growing as a dense hedge, and it is a multi-stemmed shrub-like holly tree. The ‘Nana’ cultivar, which has compact, rounded growth, is a dwarf variety of yaupon holly. The dense evergreen shrub, which may grow up to 6 feet (1.8 meters) tall and spread, is a popular topiary plant.

Sun exposure: Full sun to part shade

Size: 10 to 20 ft. (3 – 6 m)

USDA zones: 7 to 9

Holly tree leaves: Yaupon holly tree leaves are spherical and tiny, measuring 1 inch (2.5 cm) in diameter and 0.5 inch (1.2 cm) in width.

Holly tree berries: The drupes of the yaupon holly tree are groupings of showy burgundy or red drupes.

Dahoon Holly Tree (Ilex cassine)

The dahoon holly tree (Ilex cassine) has ovate to oval smooth green leaves with slightly serrated edges and beautiful red winter berries. It is a miniature evergreen tree. The dahoon holly differs from other holly tree species in that its leaves aren’t prickly. The yellowish-white fragrant spring flower clusters of the holly distinguish it from other plants. Holly trees of the dahoon type are slow-growing holly types.

Sun exposure: Partial shade or full sun

Size: 20 to 30 ft. (3 – 9 m) tall and up to 15 ft. (4.5 m) wide

USDA zones: 7 to 11

Holly tree leaves: The obovate-shaped dahoon holly tree leaves have serrated tips and a pointed base at the base.

Holly tree berries: The dahoon holly tree’s dense-orange berries are arranged in clusters and have a deep hue.

Chinese Holly (Ilex cornuta)

Long, glossy green, prickly leaves; dark red berry-like fruits; and white flowers with four tiny petals characterize the Chinese holly (Ilex cornuta). The distinctive rectangular leaves with two to four spikes that resemble bull horns are a distinguishing characteristic of Chinese holly trees.

A rounded, vase-shaped crown can also be seen on the small Chinese holly tree. A tiny tree or big shrub, the Chinese holly tree is categorized as such. This holly tree is ideal as an impenetrable hedge, living fence, or privacy barrier because of its dense, spiky foliage.

Sun exposure: Full sun to partial shade

Size: 8 to 15 ft. (2.4 – 4.5 m)

USDA zones: 7 to 9

Holly tree leaves: The dark green, glossy leaves of the Chinese holly tree have two or more spines and are rectangular in shape.

Holly tree berries: The red berries of Chinese holly trees sprout in clusters amid glossy leaves.

Oak Leaf Holly (Ilex x ‘Conaf’)

The foliage of the oakleaf holly are glossy green and resemble spiky oak tree leaves. It is a little tree with tiny leaves. The oakleaf holly tree’s distinguishing characteristic is its orangey-red berries, which remain on the evergreen tree throughout the winter, in addition to its prickly, lanceolate leaves. The upright, pyramidal shape of the oak leaf holly tree. As a foundation planting, an evergreen border, or a privacy hedge, grow the oak leaf holly plant.

Sun exposure: Full sun or light shade

Size: 15 to 20 ft. (4.5 – 6 m) tall and up to 15 ft. (4.5 m) wide

USDA zones: 6 to 9

Holly tree leaves: Leathery, green ovate leaves with spiny margins, 3.5 inches (9 cm) long, make up the oak leaf holly tree. From bronze to burgundy, new leaves emerge.

Holly tree berries: The berries of the oak leaf holly tree range in color from orange to red.

English Holly (Ilex aquifolium)

The dark glossy green prickly leaves, clusters of brilliant red berries, and winter decorations of English holly (Ilex aquifolium) are well-known. For Christmas decorations in Europe, English holly is commonly used. You’ll need to plant a male and female holly tree to ensure you get bright red berries. The English holly has the botanical name needle leaf. This shrub is suited as a security hedge because of its sharp thorny leaves.

Sun exposure: Full sun or partial shade

Size: 30 to 50 ft. (9 – 15 m) tall and 15 to 25 ft. (4.5 – 7.6 m) wide

USDA zones: 5 to 9

Holly tree leaves: Holly tree leaves are elegant green wavy leaves that may be up to 3 inches (7.5 cm) broad and spike-tipped on the edges in an elliptical form.

Holly tree berries: Yellow, orange, burgundy, and red berries make up English holly trees.

Eagleston Holly (Ilex x ‘Eagleston’)

The Eagleston holly tree is a cross of American and dahoon holly trees that was named after the actor Eagleston. The little tree has lovely green leaves with soft spines and crimson berries throughout the winter. The Eagleston holly has attractive evergreen foliage and a pyramidal crown all year.

Sun exposure: Full sun or partial shade

Size: 20 ft. (6 m) tall and 14 ft. (4.2 m) wide

USDA zones: 6 to 9

Holly tree leaves: Green ovate leaves with tiny short yellowish spines along the margins make up Eagleston holly tree leaves.

Holly tree berries: The bright red berries of the Eagleston holly tree endure throughout the winter.

Japanese Holly (Ilex crenata)

A small tree or large shrub with a rounded crown and tiny round leaves akin to boxwood and black berry-like drupes, the Japanese holly (Ilex crenata) is a common Christmas decoration. One of the hardiest holly trees, the evergreen Japanese holly tree is resistant to disease and grows in harsh environments. Use it to create a specimen tree or as a foundation planting.

Sun exposure: Full sun to partial shade

Size: 4 to 10 ft. (1.2 – 3 m) tall and wide

USDA zones: 5 to 7

Holly tree leaves: Holly tree leaves, like those of the Buxus genus, are small and oval.

Holly tree berries: Large, black, spherical fruits that resemble enormous blackcurrants are called holly tree berries in English.

Sky Pencil Holly (Ilex crenata ‘Sky Pencil’)

Sky pencil holly (Ilex crenata ‘Sky Pencil’) is a tall, slender tree or shrub with tiny oval leaves that resembles boxwood plants. The sky pencil holly’s small leaves, little stature, and showy black fruit are all identifying traits. For adding an evergreen vertical accent to a garden landscape, growing a sky pencil holly tree is ideal.

Sun exposure: Full sun to partial shade

Size: 4 to 10 ft. (1.2 – 3 m) tall and 1 to 3 ft. (0.3 – 1 m) wide

USDA zones: 5 to 8

Holly tree leaves: The leaves are 1-inch (2.5 cm) long and glossy green.

Holly tree berries: The evergreen foliage is covered with round black berry-like drupes.

Tall Inkberry Holly (Ilex coriacea)

The upright inkberry holly tree has elliptical oblong leaves, serrated borders, and dark red or black globose berries. It is a deciduous holly plant that grows to be about ten feet tall. In a garden landscape, the small flowering evergreen tree performs well as a hedge or specimen tree.

Sun exposure: Full sun or partial shade

Size: 20 ft. (6 m)

USDA zones: 6 to 9

Holly tree leaves : Leathery, glossy dark green leaves with an ovate to spherical shape that are 3 inches (7.5 cm) long.

Holly tree berries: Little oblong fruits that are shiny black.

Nellie Stevens Holly Tree (Ilex ‘Nellie Stevens’)

The Nellie Stevens holly tree has bright red berries and white spring flowers. It has a conical shape and dense, dark green glossy leaves. Because of its lustrous appearance and ease of care, the Nellie Stevens is a popular landscaping shrub-like tree. To keep out curious intruders or animals, grow as an evergreen screen.

Sun exposure: Full sun or partial shade

Size: 20 to 30 ft. (6 – 10 m) tall and up to 15 ft. (15 m) wide

USDA zones: 6 to 9

Holly tree leaves: Five to six spines on each side, dark green waxy leaves that are 2.5″ (6.5 cm) long.

Holly tree berries: In the winter, clusters of crimson berries appear.

Types of Holly Bushes (With Pictures)

Winterberry Holly (Ilex verticillata)

The winterberry holly is a huge deciduous tree with dark green, tooth-edged leaves, greenish-white blooms, and bright red berries. It is known for its glossy red berries. Despite the fact that it does not have leaves, the profusion of red berries throughout winter makes this rounded shrub look attractive. As a hedge, foundation plant, or border shrub, this holly species is versatile.

Sun exposure: Full sun to partial shade

Size: 3 to 15 ft. (1 – 4.5 m) tall and 3 to 12 ft. (1 – 3.6 m) wide

USDA zones: 3 to 9

Holly bush leaves: 2″ to 3″ (5 – 7.5 cm) long serrated dark green obovate-shaped leaves with a toothed edge.

Holly bush berries: During winter, the bare branches of these bright scarlet red berries are stunning.

Inkberry Holly Bush (Ilex glabra)

Leathery obovate leaves, inconspicuous yellow flowers, and jet-black berries grow in profusion among the evergreen leaves of the inkberry holly shrub (Ilex glabra). Inkberry bushes have a broadly rounded shape and grow to be rather tall, therefore they are also known as gallberry bushes. Inkberry shrubs are excellent low-growing hedge plants as an alternative to boxwood bushes.

‘Strongbox,’ ‘Compacta,’ ‘Shamrock,’ and ‘Gem Box’ are some of the dwarf inkberry holly bush cultivars available.

Sun exposure: Full sun to part shade

Size: 5 to 8 ft. (1.5 – 2.4 m) tall and wide

USDA zones: 4 to 9

Holly bush leaves: The leaves of the inkberry holly bush are dark green and glossy, with an ovate to elliptic form. They are 1.5″ (3.8 cm) long.

Holly bush berries: The black, pea-sized drupes of the inkberry holly bush berries grow in clusters on branches.

Blue Holly (Ilex × meserveae)

Blue holly is a huge shrub or small tree with glossy green leaves and scarlet red berries that grows to be about 5 feet tall. Beautiful bluish-green glossy foliage is seen in many blue holly cultivars. The purplish stems of blue holly cultivars, which produce evergreen leaves, are an identifying feature.

Sun exposure: Full sun to part shade

Size: 3 to 6 ft. (1 – 1.8 m) tall and 8 to 15 ft. (2.4 – 4.5 m) wide, depending on the cultivar

USDA zones: 3 to 7

Holly bush leaves: The leaves of blue holly are 1″ to 2.5″ (2.5 – 6 cm) long and have four to eight spines on each side. They are dark green to blue in color.

Holly bush berries: During the winter, the bush is covered in blue holly berries, which are round red berries.

Longstalk Holly (Ilex pedunculosa)

Longstalk holly has glossy green smooth leaves without serrations or spines on the edges and grows as a broadleaved evergreen plant. The long, drooping leafy stalks are a defining characteristic of this holly. Clusters of crimson berries are also seen on the lengthy pendulous stalks throughout the winter.

Sun exposure: Full sun to partial shade

Size: 10 to 20 ft. (3 – 6 m) tall with a spread of 10 to 15 ft. (3 – 4.5 m)

USDA zones: 5 to 8

Holly bush leaves: Longstalk holly leaves have smooth borders and a lustrous green sheen, ranging from 1″ to 3″ (2.5 – 7.5 cm) in length.

Holly bush berries: On pendulous stems, there are an abundance of red berries.

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