The hollies native to the southeastern U.S. make wonderful additions to the home landscape while supporting our local ecosystem. Some are deciduous and some are evergreen, all have inconspicuous yellowish-green flowers which are either male or female, and all produce fruits which are technically "drupes" but are commonly called berries. Native holly berries are an important source of food for wildlife, especially late in the season after other sources are depleted - though the berries cause a variety of digestive problems in humans and should not be consumed. The flowers produced by male hollies in the spring tend to be quite fragrant and attractive to a host of pollinating insects. The genus Ilex contains 400-600 species worldwide. Several species originating in Europe or Asia - e.g, Chinese Holly (Ilex cornuta) and English Holly (Ilex aquifolium) - are widely sold by nurseries. Some, unfortunately, have become invasive in natural areas. These popular non-native hollies have become more familiar to many of us than our own native species...which are also available at local nurseries if you know what to ask for.
Native Hollies of the Midsouth:
American Holly (Ilex opaca) - an upright, pyramidal, evergreen tree that slowly matures to 15-30' in cultivation, but may reach 50' tall in the wild. Bright orange-red berries persist through the winter on female trees and are popular with birds; fragrant spring flowers on male trees are very attractive to pollinators. Full sun to part shade, well-drained soil.
Yaupon Holly (Ilex vomitoria) - a thicket-forming, broadleaf evergreen shrub or small tree that typically grows in an upright, irregularly branched form to 10-20’ tall and to 10’ wide. Grow in average, medium to wet soils in full sun to part shade. In its native habitat, it grows in dry to wet conditions, in a variety of soils and in sun or shade. It generally tolerates more drought than most other hollies, but it doesn't like extreme cold. Red, persistent berries.
Possumhaw (Ilex decidua) - An upright deciduous shrub with a spreading, rounded crown which typically grows 7-15' tall in cultivation (to 30' in the wild). Red berries persist through winter and are eaten by birds, deer, opossums, and other animals. Easily grown in average, medium moisture soil in full sun to part shade. Adaptable to both light and heavy soils, but prefers moist, acidic, organic soils. Some tolerance for wet conditions.
Inkberry (Ilex glabra) - A slow-growing, upright, rounded evergreen shrub which typically matures to 5-8’ tall, and can spread by root suckers to form colonies. Easily grown in average, medium to wet soils in full sun to part shade. Adaptable to both light and heavy soils. Female plants produce pea-sized, jet black, berry-like drupes (inkberries) which mature in early fall and persist throughout winter to early spring unless consumed by local bird populations.
Winterberry (Ilex verticillata) - A slow-growing, deciduous shrub with an upright-rounded habit that typically grows 3-12’ tall. In the wild, it often suckers to form large thickets or colonies. Berries are quite showy and will persist throughout the winter and often into early spring, providing considerable impact and interest to the winter landscape. Easily grown in average, acidic, medium to wet soils in full sun to part shade. Adaptable to both light and heavy soils, but prefers moist, acidic, organic loams. Good tolerance for poorly drained soils.
Yaupon Holly American Holly