Revised 9/94 -- Author Reviewed 4/96


M.A. (Kim) Powell
Extension Horticultural Specialist
Department of Horticultural Science
North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service
North Carolina State University

The Holly (Ilex) genus is very popular among landscape architects, nurserymen and home gardeners. Horticulturalists recognize approximately 20 American Holly species, 120 Oriental species, and nearly 200 varieties of the English Holly.

Landscape Use

Hollies offer quite a diverse range of plant characteristics. They can be deciduous or evergreen, small (18") or large (over 50'), and may be rounded, globose, pyramidal or columnar in form. Landscape uses are just as varied; hollies can be used as foundation plantings, screening, hedges, accent plants, mass plantings or specimen trees.

Hollies are easily recognized by their alternate leaves. The flowers are generally inconspicuous with sexes on separate plants. It is essential to have both staminate and pistillate plants in the same general vicinity to insure proper pollination. Poor fruiting on hollies is a problem many gardeners experience. This could be due to poor pollination, young immature plants, high nitrogen levels in the soil, or a late spring frost which injures flowers.


The general culture of hollies is quite simple. Most holly cultivars require well-drained soil and like full sun. Be sure to know the cold hardiness limits of the particular holly, as many are not hardy past Zone 7 (upper Piedmont area).

Good drainage is required, especially on the Japanese (crenata) hollies. Chinese (cornuta) and dwarf yaupon (vomitora nana) seem to tolerate wet feet much better. Plenty of organic matter, especially in sandy soils, will also be helpful. Holly beds should be well-mulched and fertilized with a complete fertilizer to remain healthy. The soil pH should be between 5.0 and 6.0.

Maintenance requirements will include pruning of the vigorous growing cultivars, and controlling leaf miner, Japanese wax scale, and redmites. Root rot diseases are a problem with several Japanese cultivars.

The following is a partial list of Hollies which grow well and are versatile in North Carolina landscapes.

Botanical Name
and Common Name                    Landscape Remarks

Ilex x   altenuata 'Fosteri'       Cross between 1.  cassine x
FOSTERI HOLLY                      opaca.  Favorite upright,
                                   small tree form, good fruit
                                   production.  Popular as
                                   foundation planting on
                                   corners of structures.

Ilex aquifolilum                   Lustrous, dark green, spiny
ENGLISH HOLLY                      leaf.  Many cultivars

Ilex cassine                       Excellent tree form, hardy
DAHOON HOLLY                       Zone 9, red berries.Good for
                                   eastern N.C. landscapes.

Ilex  cornuta                      Hardy to Zone 7.  Typically
CHINESE HOLLY                      reaches 9-12' in height,
                                   medium to coarse texture.     
                                   Favorite cultivars include:   
                                   'Burfordii' - heavy fruit     
                                     crop, can get very large.  
                                   'Dwarf Burfordii' - 5-6',  
                                     does not fruit as heavily as
                                   'Carissa' - dense, dwarf,  
                                     3-4' high.
                                   'Rotunda' - compact, dense,  
                                     spiny leaves; to 5' if not

Ilex crenata                       Hardy to Zone 6, can reach
JAPANESE HOLLY                     9-12' in height, medium to
                                   fine texture (smaller leaves  
                                   than cornuta).  Dense, multi
                                   stem evergreen shrub. 
                                   Favorite cultivars include:
                                   'Compacta' - globose form,    
                                     requires little pruning, to 
                                   'Convexa' - very hardy,       
                                     dense, can grow to 9'.
                                   'Green Luster' - dark green,  
                                     lustrous foliage.
                                   'Helleri' - low spreading, 3' 
                                     height x 5' width.
                                   'Hetzi' - more compact than   
                                   'Kingsville Green Cushion' -  
                                     very low-spreading form.
                                   'Microphylla' - hardy Zone 5  
                                     very small leaves.
                                   'Rependens' - small, narrow   
                                     leaves; maintained at 3'    
                                   'Rotundifolia' - rounded      
                                     form, easily reaches 8-12'.
                                   'Stokes' - not as hardy as    
                                     'Helleri' but remains       

Ilex decidua                       Deciduous large shrub (30')
POSSOMHAW HOLLY                    with crenately-toothed
                                   leaves.  Fruits bright red or
                                   orange and very showy in fall
                                   and winter.

Ilex glabra                        Grows 6-8' tall, rounded
INKBERRY                           form, hardy all across        
                                   N.C.  Slow growth rate, black
                                   berries produced, showy in

Ilex x 'Nellie R. Stevens'         Upright, pyramidal, dense
                                   small tree form.  Hybrid
                                   between 1. aquifolium x 1. 
                                   cornuta.  Hardy to Zone 6.

Ilex opaca                         Grows 50-60' tall, medium to
AMERICAN HOLLY                     coarse texture.  Females
                                   fruit heavily in fall, needs
                                   1 male for every 2-3 females;
                                   pyramidal form.  Many
                                   cultivars available.

Ilex 'pernyi'                      Pyramidal, upright habit. 
PERNY HOLLY                        9-12' tall, hardy to Zone 6.

Ilex verticullata                  Deciduous shrub; withstands
SPARKLEBERRY                       wet conditions, active to
                                   swampy areas fruit very showy
                                   in fall and winter. Several
                                   cultivars available.

Ilex vomitoria                     Hardy to Zone 7.  Native to
YAUPON                             coastal areas; tree form 
                                   reaches 15-20'. Translucent
                                   berries, gray bark.

Ilex vomitoria 'Nana'              Low growing shrub form; very
DWARF YAUPON                       dense, branching habit.

Published by
North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service

Distributed in furtherance of the Acts of Congress of May 8 and June 30, 1914. Employment and program opportunities are offered to all people regardless of race, color, national origin, sex, age, or disability. North Carolina State University at Raleigh, North Carolina A&T State University, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and local governments cooperating.