American holly is an evergreen tree with a formally narrow, pyramidal silhouette. It grows to 15-30 feet tall in cultivation though in the North American forests they often reach 50 feet tall and the tallest one on record reaches an astonishing 100 feet. The American holly, is Ilex opaca, and is the largest species in the Holly family, Aquifoliaceae, which consists of 300 species, most of which are shrub-like. When the first permanent English settlers arrived in North America they would have found hollies plentiful in the environs of Jamestown. And they noted the similarities to the English holly, such as the spiny leaves and bright berries. The English holly has darker, shinier leaves, whereas the American holly leaves are flat and more of an emerald green. The foliage of the English holly is more popular but the color contrast between fruit and leaf is greater on the American holly. And the form of the American holly lends itself to uses no other holly could match. With its beautiful pale gray trunk, conical habit and great height, it lends a formality to any setting, particularly lining a drive or screening a property line. And holly is a natural understory tree so it takes well to partial shade conditions and is easily grown in average, medium, well-drained soil. American hollies are dioecious, meaning there are separate male and female plants. For females to bear fruit, a male pollinator is needed and should be planted within 200 feet. One male for every three females will insure good pollination and though it does well in partial shade, fruit production is best when holly is grown in full sun on a moist, acidic, well-drained soil.

Holly has survived -20° Fahrenheit, making it the hardiest broadleaf evergreen tree known and can be grown from New England, perhaps even southern Ontario, to the Gulf of Mexico - an immense range. It is also successful throughout the UK and New Zealand and temperate Australia. And there are hundreds of cultivars, one of which is ‘Canary’, which has bright yellow berries, a nice variation.


American holly

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